Speech by Drs. Muridan Widjojo, TANAP PhD Candidate, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Indonesia
Establishing a new generation of historians in Indonesia: needs and challenges
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
On this important occasion, I would like to share with you my thoughts about the situation of two generations of historians in Indonesia. By comparing these two generations, I will address some of the needs and challenges that arise in anticipation of a new generation of Indonesian historians.
The TANAP (Towards A New Age of Partnership) project has made a good start. We now have seventeen Ph.D. candidates in this project, of which three are Indonesians. By 2007, the TANAP project will conclude and the program leaders envision a follow-up. To this end, Prof. Blussé has designed an impressive mutual heritage project proposal called Encompass, which aims to train sixty BA and MA students, twenty-five students at M.Phil.-level and 10 Ph.D. candidates from Asia within ten years. Many of these students will be Indonesians. Encompass is scheduled to start in 2005-2006. Its BA-MA will cover the first six years and its PhD extension will end in 2014-2015. If the necessary funding of this multilateral project can be realized, it will contribute significantly to the making of new generation of historians and anthropologists in Indonesia.
The most crucial issue that needs to be tackled in this admirable plan is the following one: the need for institutional strengthening and capacity building in Indonesia. Capacity building has everything to do with developing language skills, theoretical insights, and the formulation of research agendas and training programmes. If the need for institutional capacity building is not addressed properly, the new generation of Indonesian historians risks to be left behind internationally. The Encompass project offers solutions that earnestly aim to create a new and well performing generation of Asian historians, including Indonesian. Encompass is the right programme because capacity building takes place in a multilateral framework, with several other countries, whose representatives are here today.
I will offer some suggestions how a continuous partnership can be further developed. But first I would like to look back at the previous generations of Indonesian historians. I also want to briefly assess the present academic state of affairs at Indonesia�s most important universities.
Three generations of Indonesian historians
Since the independence of Indonesia, Indonesian historians can be distinguished broadly into two age groups: the generation of the 1960s and the generation of the 1980s. The term 'historian' in this respect is restricted to those scholars who are university graduates with a major in history. Some of them were educated in the Netherlands, others in the United States, Australia or in the United Kingdom.
The first generation is marked by such internationally prominent figures as Prof. Sartono Kartodirdjo, Prof. A.B. Lapian, Prof. Ong Hok Ham, Prof.Taufik Abdullah. Kartodirdjo obtained his Ph.D. in Amsterdam. Lapian, although he did his Ph.D. at Universitas Gadjah Mada, was also educated in the Netherlands. Prof. Wertheim and Prof. Meilink-Roelofsz were among the most important Dutch supervisors for this generation. Abdullah and Ong Hok Ham both enjoyed studies in the United States. In general, these scholars have an excellent command of Dutch and English. Moreover most scholars of this generation have clear theoretical insights that are compatible with contemporary global debates. Consequently they were internationally recognized and were active in international research programs and academic networks. Their writings on Indonesian history are influential up until today. For example, Kartodirdjo�s ideas on social history and Lapian�s on maritime history introduced new discourses and perspectives in the writing of Indonesian history. Unfortunately, owing to a variety of reasons that I will presently spell out, this generation was not able to produce students of the same academic standing.
The second generation was partly a product of the work done within the so-called �Cultural Agreement� between the Dutch and Indonesian governments between 1972 and 1992. This bilateral collaboration was unfortunately discontinued after President Soeharto felt offended by Dutch Foreign Minister Pronk�s critical questions about the human rights situation in East Timor. The Cultural Agreement collaboration entailed a �Sandwich Program� in which students enjoyed courses on language, history and research in the Netherlands in the process of obtaining Master degrees from Indonesian universities (UI and UGM) in the 1980s. A number of them, including Mestika Zed, Masyhuri, Edward Polinggomang,Gede Parimartha, and the late Mohammad Gade Ismael obtained their Ph.D. in the Netherlands. In this era Prof. Heather Sutherland, made important contributions.
However, after these scholars�especially the Dutch-educated ones�had completed their education, they did not manage to reach a similarly high level of achievement as the preceding generation. As a result, at a time when their contributions to the discourse of Indonesian history were much needed, the generation of the 1960s still remained dominant. On top of that, at the international level, the achievements of those Dutch-educated 1980s generation were not recognized as widely as those of their predecessors. In this respect, Taufik Abdullah observes critically that although in comparison to other historians the members of this 1980s generation of Dutch-educated historians have a better command and access to the Dutch sources which are so important for the writing of Southeast Asian history, they nonetheless have problems writing in English and suffer from a lack of familiarity with challenging theoretical insights.
The problems of the generation of 1980s who were trained in the Netherlands were as follows. During their education they were not exposed sufficiently to the international historical community like the TANAP students are nowadays. Within the bilateral context of the cultural agreement they tended to get stuck in the narrow circle of their Indonesian fellows and their supervisors. Unfortunately, most of them kept communicating with each other in Bahasa Indonesia during their stay in the Netherlands. Once back home, they were not only underpaid but also mostly absorbed excessively into bureaucracy, teaching routine, or in short-term projects. At that time, under the New Order regime, historical research was also subject to the Government�s surveillance to prevent too much attention to the radical or leftist groups of the nationalist movement under colonialism and party politics during the Soekarno era. Consequently, they did not have enough time and space to develop research and improve themselves to international standards.
Now, 20 years later, the making of a third post-independence and 21th-century generation is at stake. Along with limited achievements of the generation of 1980s, historical research in Indonesia is on the wane. Few non-Dutch-educated good historians are now working to anticipate the future. The department of history at the UI and the UGM have been striving to provide qualified lecturers and to improve the quality of their course materials. However, the institutions that the first generation had established and strengthened are now suffering from lack of funding, poor management, declining quality of lecturers, and deteriorating language teaching. The three or four PhD students who are presently trained in the TANAP program and are scheduled to obtain the doctor�s degree in two years time, will have to shoulder the almost impossible task to bring a turn around in the coming years. One thing is clear we shall only be able to do so in the years to come if we are empowered with additional assistance from abroad and our Dutch colleagues in particular.
Empowering Scientific Institutions
The above-sketched state of affairs ought to be countered soon. In this the Encompass project can play a significant role.
First of all because the project aims at educating Asian from different countries, including Indonesian historians, it will create a very stimulating environment. What I envision is that the Encompass project is going to be carried out in a true spirit of partnership, both in principle and in practice. All parties involved should therefore share and contribute their resources and power. Eventually all should benefit equally in terms of capacity building and stimulating historical research. The continuous partnership proposed in the Encompass project should certainly promote the improvement of capacity, efficiency, and accountability in Indonesian scientific institutions. Eventually they are supposed to be able to produce their own historians who can play a role in the international academic world. In this respect, present initiatives of the Indonesian Government to address this matter are highly recommended. Only if a multilateral project such as Encompass will be brought into place, the highly valued partnership can be developed in a sustainable way.
But apart from the multilateral dimension, I would like to point at a second, very essential part of Encompass.
Language skills: Dutch and English
Talking about Indonesian historians who obtained their PhD�s in the 1980s and 1990s and did not enjoy a Dutch education, the issue of a general lack of Dutch language skills often comes to the fore. In a recent interview for the journal Itinerario, Prof. Lapian of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) says: �It is simply a matter of access to Dutch sources. Studying [Indonesian] pre-national history requires a good knowledge of the Dutch language. Although in Indonesian universities Dutch language courses continue to be given to history students, results are very poor�. Lapian's own generation, those of the 1960s, emulated Dutch teachings - as the Dutch expression goes: they got their knowledge ingegoten met de paplepel, fed with a spoon since their babyhood. Most of the members of his generation, after all, had enjoyed some level of Dutch schooling and luckily their parents still spoke Dutch. However, the generation of the 1980s and the following did not have such an advantage. It is very essential that this generation would be provided with better and appropriate language teaching methods at the university level. Unfortunately, at the universities in Jakarta and Yogyakarta, the Dutch courses followed by students of history are less sophisticated than in the other foreign departments, for instance the French or Japanese departments.
Concerning the English language capacity, the situation is similar. The Indonesians learn English as they enter junior high school and continue to learn it in senior high school. However, those pre-university educational institutions do not provide good training. Contrary to the Dutch educated élite of the generation of the Indonesian revolution, only few Indonesians nowadays speak and understand English at a decent level. People working in the business sector often speak better English than people at the university. My own experience can be taken as an example. I had the luck that my mother sent me to a local Catholic school system. This old-fashioned school provided a relatively more rigorous and systematic approach in the various disciplines. But I still had to take extra English courses during my secondary school. That gave me an advantage when I entered university, joined international forums, or later joined TANAP programme. But for many young history students the situation differs greatly and that is one main obstacle.
The Encompass programme leaves enough space to tackle that problem. It provides for enough additional language training. This was my second remark.
Learning from the TANAP Project
What did we learn from the TANAP Project thus far, apart from the usefulness of working in a good international environment and the focus on language training?
Until now we have learned much from our differences and similarities in terms of both cultures and common pasts. We have enriched our insights in a way that would not have been possible in the usual PhD environments. Many of us, who did not speak English on a daily basis before we came here, have improved their language skills significantly. And we have been privileged that we have had such an easy access to the important Dutch VOC collections in The Hague, and to the libraries in Leiden. Moreover, since our involvement in this project, we even had opportunities to attend conferences abroad. For that we are also grateful to UNESCO. The UNESCO-sponsored TANAP conferences made it possible to share insights with the renowned historians from China, Japan, Thailand, Iran, India, Sri Lanka, and South Africa.
However, as far as theoretical insights are concerned, students of the TANAP Project who started at the Advanced Master�s level and therefore in many cases lacked a solid theoretical background, have in my opinion not been sufficiently loaded with theoretical insights that can help them understand and analyse their historical data.
As far as language skills are concerned, The TANAP project has striven to provide Dutch and English language training for its students, who, as I already referred to, had acquired an MA degree in their own country. We were and still are provided special courses on Dutch palaeography and pre-modern Dutch language. Nevertheless the teaching methods, judging by my own experience, are lacking in both intensity and relevance. Time and capacity have been rather restricted to obtain profound insights into the structure, grammar and logic of the language. Learning a language does inevitably require a lot of practice, but for the purpose of our historical research we should be taught in a more systematic way to master the clues for breaking down pre-modern Dutch sentences, which are generally very complex.
Learning from TANAP experience, I would like to make some suggestions related to the needs that the Encompass should address right from the beginning. First, selection process of the grantees should be objective and impartial. Their English knowledge and personal interest in history should be addressed in the first instance. Second, the design of Dutch teaching method should be compatible to the need of historical research and should be very intensive. More time should be spent more for the language skill in the first year, the BA in Mutual Heritage history which basically is a �schakel jaar�, a link-up year. Third, the Encompass project should be able to appoint a team of good language instructors with full awareness of the specific need of historical research. Fourth, the project should provide students with sufficient courses on methodology, historiography, and most importantly theoretical insights. The now proposed Encompass programme which is aimed at students of a much younger age than the TANAP programme should be able to achieve these goals. I would also suggest that if needs be the University of Leiden should in specific cases enlist on a short time basis specialists from abroad to reach the optimal effect.
Last, but not least, Encompass should continue to profit from the voluntary guidance of many historians of the international network that has been created so far. This supporting network is unique in the world, something that cannot be expressed in figures and budgets.
One aspect of the partnership is the sharing of opportunities and benefits between Indonesian and Dutch academic institutions. If the Encompass programme is carried out in close cooperation with the Indonesian students community, the Indonesian lecturers, universities, and research centres, it will without doubt be an enormous stimulus. It will give the right incentives to our Indonesian institutions to develop better training and research facilities for future generations of historians. Foreign cooperation in the true sense of the word can only be achieved between institutions that enjoy comparable competence so as to come to results that are mutually beneficial. It will also increase the capacity of the collaborating institutions. It is my hope that the Encompass project will be made possible so that we can continue to generate a stable, long-lasting partnership in studying a common past. In the end, the Encompass project will generate not just a nominal partnership, but a real one.