Custodians Of Malay Heritage: Anthropology, Education, And Imperialism In British Malaya And The Netherlands Indies 1890-1939

Matthew Schauer, University of Pennsylvania





Matthew J. Schauer

Supervised by Lynn Hollen Lees and Henrika Kuklick

This dissertation examines role of imperial anthropology in facilitating the formation of policies of imperial education relating to the Malay peoples of British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies from 1890 to 1939. During this time, British and Dutch colonial civil servants and policy makers were connected by worldwide networks of academic knowledge, through their participation in scholarly historical and anthropological societies. These civil servants, many of whom were amateur scholars, saw themselves as the protectors of ancient Malay history and culture, which they saw as having become degraded due to the influence of Islam. Custodians of Heritage argues that Malay cultural heritage and imperial ethnology were utilized by the governments of British Malaya and the Netherlands Indies to inform policies of imperial education that were used to foster ideas concerning gender, social, cultural, economic and political status among the Malay peoples.

This comparative study uncovers the manners in which the two colonies exchanged information relating to imperial governance and education, the changes in the level of political impact of Dutch and British ethnology in the region, and the similarities and differences in the ways in which each colony utilized Malay heritage in colonial education. Through the study of imperial education, this dissertation proves that this constructed ethnological knowledge of Malay heritage influenced projects of social engineering relating to the Malay people. These projects included policies that restricted the availability of forms of Dutch and English language education and higher education according to an individual's perceived social class, geographic location, religion, and gender. These conceptions of the Malay when applied to education were used to: maintain economic equilibrium in the colonies through the prevention of social mobility, cultivate support for the aristocratic elite classes who were involved in imperial governance, and hinder the spread of nationalism and political radicalism within the colonies. This project of Malay heritage collection would continue to resonate after decolonization when some of these conceptions of social class, traditional histories, and artifacts would later be claimed and utilized by nationalist leaders in Malaysia and Indonesia to foster nationalistic unity and validate their political power.