IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 22 | Regions | Southeast Asia


Research on Environmental History of Indonesia

The discipline of environmental history seeks a (historical) understanding of the many ways people have understood, changed, and been changed by the environments they inhabit. The discipline itself is not new, neither is the material which has been around for generations, but is now being reorganized in the light of recent experience on environmental issues. Three broad research areas are distinguished by environmental historians: (1) understanding nature, or the natural environment itself (ecology); (2) the socio-economic realm manifest in human modes of production, different institutions, and decision-making; and (3) the conception of the environment, which includes perceptions, ethics, laws and myth.


In 1993, the Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology (kitlv) began a research project on the environmental history of Indonesia. The environmental history of Indonesia is a fairly new specialization and ­ like environmental history in general ­ has been drawing on a number of other disciplines such as the natural sciences, geography, and anthropology, and their methodologies, a move which is clearly reflected in the multidisciplinarity of the EDEN project as well.

EDEN is the acronym for Ecology, Demography, and Economy in Nusantara. The first phase of the project (1993-1997), which focused on the period of the earliest European contacts with Indonesia up to the end of the nineteenth century, was characterized by a geographical approach. Covering important themes in environmental history of the islands of the Archipelago, the researchers have written on (parts of) Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Sumbawa*. The edited volume Paper landscapes: explorations in the environmental history of Indonesia is an anthology of topics investigated in that first phase of the project. Most of the researchers' books are in an advanced phase of preparation, or publication.

In June 1999, EDEN entered its second phase: three new researchers were appointed to work together with Peter Boomgaard and David Henley on themes in the environmental history of Indonesia covering the period 1850 to the present. This time the project has opted for a more thematic approach through which certain subjects previously paid too little or no attention at all will be investigated, such as malaria, livestock, and fisheries. Since the time frame has shifted to the modern historical period including the present, data collection by fieldwork in Indonesia will form an important part in most of the team members' research.

Peter Boomgaard, historian and the project leader of EDEN, has written a book on tigers and people in the Malay world during the the first phase of the project. In the second phase, he ill concentrate on the subject of forest management, reforestation, and nature conservation in Java. His research will have a strong historical focus covering a longer period, namely from 1600 to 1950.

David Henley (social geographer) is adding the final touches on his product of EDEN I, a book on a number of environmental history themes of North Sulawesi, with an emphasis on demography and economy. Within the framework of EDEN II, he will undertake the task of investigating the history and effectiveness of malaria control in the Indonesian Archipelago, which will encompas both descriptive and analytical research. Both traditional and more modern forms of malaria management in the colonial and post-colonial period will be taken into account. In the summer Henley will conduct an initial survey in two sets of fieldwork locations in North Sulawesi (Minahasa and Bolaang Mongondow) and in Central Sulawesi (Lore and Palu). Beside these locations, attention will be paid to Jakarta, where interviews will be conducted with people involved in malaria control efforts in the metropolitan area in the past, including health service officials.

Martine Barwegen, trained in zoo-technology at Wageningen Agricultural University, has previously undertaken research on animal husbandry in Costa Rica and Kenya. Since June 1999 she has been a PhD student focusing on a study of livestock and landuse in Java in the period 1850 to the present. Her main research interest is to investigate the principal factors which have influenced the utilization of livestock in small-holding systems. Or in other words: she will shed some light on the mutual influence of livestock and environment. Next month, Barwegen will start her first six-month fieldwork period in East Java, where she intends to get an impression of the small-holding systems, the different livestock related activities, and the time spent on them (with a focus on women), as well as noting the changes that have taken place since 1950. Archival research in the national archive in The Hague and the National Archive of Indonesia (ANRI) in Jakarta, plus visits to governmental departments and universities in Java form the other part of the research.

Manon Osseweijer joined the EDEN II team in October 1999. She is an anthropologist who has undertaken her PhD research on local fisheries in the Aru Islands, Eastern Indonesia. While finishing her thesis, she has started post-doctoral research under the aegis of EDEN. This covers the long-term trends in Eastern Indonesian fisheries. The fisheries policy of Indonesia places a heavy emphasis on the marine potential of Eastern Indonesia, which is why this region has been chosen for research on fisheries policy and management. In addition, Osseweijer would like to emphasize the way knowledge of fisheries is developed along the different levels of government administration on the one hand, and local and non-local fisheries activities, and the interactions between them on the other hand. Her research covers the more recent history by comparing 'historical narratives' concerning regional fisheries and adminstrative officers during the last 80 years. Fieldwork to support one or two case studies is likely to take place in Maluku and Irian Jaya. *

* The EDEN I members, besides Peter Boomgaard and David Henley, were: Freek Colombijn (Sumatra), Bernice de Jong Boers (Sumbawa), Han Knapen (Southeast Borneo), and Luc Nagtegaal (Java).

Ecology, Demography and Economy in Nusantara
Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology
P.O.Box 9515
2300 RA The Netherlands.
E-mail: henley@let.leidenuniv.nl

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 22 | Regions | Southeast Asia