IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 19 | Regions |South East Asia


From Indonesia Circle to

Indonesia and the Malay World

Beginning with its March 1997 issue, Indonesia Circle, the SOAS-based journal of Indonesian studies, changed its name to Indonesia and the Malay World. Explaining the change, Russell Jones, an editor of Indonesia Circle since its foundation in 1973, wrote in an Introduction to that issue: '. . . while remaining the only journal published in Britain that is focused mainly on Indonesia, it has become less exclusively so than before, and for a long time has carried articles also on Malaysia and the Malay language. . . . By changing the journal's name, the editors are both reflecting this broadening geographical scope and signalling their wish to broaden it still further by publishing research . . . no longer solely on Indonesia but also on all parts of the Malay world.'

by Nigel Phillips

Indonesia Circle had itself been the result of a shift from Malay to Indonesian in language teaching at SOAS. From the opening of SOAS in 1917 until 1970, the Malay language had featured in the curriculum, and, to quote Jones, 'former colonial servants from Malaya taught Malay to their prospective successors'. This was understandable, given the recognition, since 1824, of present-day Indonesia as a Dutch sphere of influence, and the history of British colonial rule in the Malay peninsula. However, with Indonesia's emergence as an independent state at the end of 1949, 'it gradually dawned on interested academics and others in Britain that this former Dutch empire need no longer remain the province of Dutch scholarship alone; the argument became the more compelling when in the 1950s the links between Indonesia and the Netherlands were beset with problems, and scholarly contacts between the two states were inhibited'. In 1967 SOAS established a new post, Lecturer in Indonesian, and Russell Jones was appointed to it.

In 1973, inspired by the success of a society set up by students of Indonesian at Sydney University, where he had taught before coming to SOAS, Jones and his colleagues founded the Indonesia Circle, an association whose objects were, among other things, 'to foster interest in, and knowledge of, Indonesia and its culture', and whose members were SOAS staff and students, Indonesian nationals, and others having an interest in Indonesia, such as former volunteers and members of the British Council and Foreign Office. Its thrice-yearly newsletter, which first appeared in July 1973, was called Indonesia Circle. Indonesia Circle's early numbers not only kept members in touch and informed about past and future meetings, but also contained news about research, book reviews, and before long some brief original contributions to research (for example Mark Hobart's article 'Some Balinese uses of animal symbolism: are aristocrats pigs?' in Indonesia Circle, 5). In March 1977 the publication doubled in length to about 50 pages and began to contain a respectable proportion of original research, increasingly international in provenance, so that the editors felt able to call it a journal rather than a newsletter.

Humanities bias

The scope of the articles published by Indonesia Circle and Indonesia and the Malay World is defined as 'the languages, literature, art, archaeology, history, geography, religions, and anthropology of Indonesia', and most contributions have been in these traditional 'humanities' subjects. Nevertheless, the journal has occasionally ventured into the natural sciences with articles on fossil pollens and plant ecology; and more often - especially in recent years - it has published research in the social sciences, for example on population growth, cocoa and coffee production, salt wells, oil prices, general elections, reformasi, Indonesia's future as a unitary state, gender and the sexes, the media, and tourism. The journal's humanities bias has been reflected in its editorial board, whose members are based at or linked to SOAS. For years nearly all have been specialists in language and literature, anthropology, or archaeology like Russell Jones, Ulrich Kratz, Annabel Gallop, Ben Arps, Vladimir Braginsky, Angela Hobart, Elizabeth Moore, and Ian Glover. However, the balance altered somewhat in the early 1990s when the economist Ann Booth, the economic historian Ian Brown, and the political scientist John Sidel joined the board. The board benefits from the expertise of Helen Cordell, for years librarian of SOAS's South East Asian and Pacific collections; and the standard of technical editing has been exacting since Doris Johnson, former Editorial Secretary of the SOAS Bulletin, joined Indonesia Circle in 1979. Most issues of the journal cover a variety of topics, but some are devoted to particular subjects, e.g. archaeology, gender, healing, music, poetry, textiles, tourism. Other numbers have concentrated on a geographical area, e.g. Bali, Java, the Moluccas, and - especially after the demise of the Sumatra Research Bulletin - Sumatra. Even before 'the Malay world' became part of the journal's title, articles on the Malay world outside Indonesia had appeared in Indonesia Circle. These especially concerned Malay manuscripts and traditional Malay literature, and more recently labour issues in modern Malaysia.


Not only the contents but also the form of the journal have changed. The covers of the first 21 issues carried a symbolic circle divided, also symbolically, into red and white semicircles, but were otherwise unadorned. Casting austerity aside, the next 20 issues sported a succession of attractive coloured designs by the artist Christine Wilson, based on Indonesian textiles and wood-carvings. They have since been succeeded by photographs, but the red and white theme remains. The pages of Indonesia Circle, too, were for some years enlivened by pen-and-ink representations of Indonesian designs by Jeune Scott-Kemball, the expert on the Javanese gamelan. For nearly 20 years the Indonesia Circle managed to publish its journal independently, thanks to support of various kinds from SOAS, the British Academy, and the Indonesian Embassy, and to the selflessness of the technical editor, Doris Johnson, and the typist, Pat Weaver. By 1992, however, financial stringency caused publication to be taken over first by Oxford University Press, and then in 1997 by Carfax, publishers of a wide range of academic journals. Thus relieved of immediate financial pressure, the editors have felt free to reverse the colonial carve-up and open their pages to research on the entire Malay world in its widest sense.

Enquiries about subscribing to Indonesia and the Malay World may be e-mailed to gary.bowerman@carfax.co.uk; and about Carfax's Scholarly Articles Research Alerting service (SARA), to sara@carfax.co.uk with the word 'info' in the body of the message. Nigel Phillips can be reached at South East Asia Department, SOAS, Thornhaugh St, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, or by e-mail at np4@soas.ac.uk

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 19 | Regions |South East Asia