PhD Alumni

Nadeera Rupesinghe - Negotiating Custom: A History of the Galle Landraad (1740-96)

The VOC left hundreds of volumes of legal records that now lie at the Sri Lanka National Archives. These sources provide an insight into colonial law, an area of legal history that has developed rapidly over the last fifteen years or so. Sri Lanka, which has the characteristics of a pluralistic legal structure, is one of the few countries in the world where Roman-Dutch law exists in some form to this date. Questions on the imposition of a foreign law and the degree to which indigenous customs were accommodated will be central to my research. Whether colonial law was a site of domination or resistance used by the locals have been two directions that have been considered; that it was more likely to have been a site of negotiation has been a more recent understanding. With such issues in mind, I hope to add a Sri Lankan case study to the existing research on colonial law, by focusing on the records of the Galle Landraad or district court in the eighteenth century.

Nadeera Rupesinghe (née Seneviratne) has started her PhD research in 2010 at Leiden University and defended her thesis on 21 January 2016.

Xu Xiaodong - The Genesis of a Growth Triangle: A Study of economic connections between Singapore, Johor and Riau, 1870s -1970s


This research proposal is inspired by the establishment of SIJORI Triangle or Indonesia-Malaysia-Singapore Growth Triangle (IMS-GT) in the last two decades of the twentieth century, which has been hailed as a major step towards sub-regional cooperation and served as a model for further strengthening economic cooperation in ASEAN. Widely discussed debates have been generated over the rationales behind the establishment of this triangle. As a result of both economic imperative and political will of the participants, premises agreed upon including different factor endowments, different comparative advantages, massive flows of foreign investment, geographic proximity, political commitment and policy coordination, etc. However, very few scholars have traced the historical backgrounds of these premises which must not be neglected. It is not only because of the prevalence of dependency theories which tend to attribute contemporary socio-economic situations to colonial determinants, but also because of the internal connections between these regions that used to be incorporated in a unified empire hundreds of years ago. However, studies on this point are relatively in lack. Hence, it is undeniably of importance to study this historical territory in the late-colonial and immediate post-independence period. The analysis of the economic relationships between these three regions – Singapore, Johor and Riau – during the century preceding the ASEAN initiative constitutes the main pursuit of my research plan. My aim is to analyze the prosperity or decline of these three powers and their mutual connections from an economic perspective, as well as the way in which economic relationships were interwoven into complicated political and social relationships.

To provide a description of the connections between the three, I manage the analysis on two layers: the philosophical layer and the practical layer. On the philosophical layer, I deal with the spread and transfer of concepts, including colonial administration, imperial expansion and nationalism, etc. Scholars have argued that the linkage between economic and political development and the growth of global interconnections was provided by trade, territorial ambition, and cultural systems. Concepts such as colonialism, imperialism, nationalism and globalisation, which emerged as great movements since the nineteenth century, thus form an important set of elements for consideration.Theories about the realizing and function of these concepts can be widely echoed by the works of Gallagher, Robinson, Butlin and Wesseling. On the practical layer, more attention is paid on the trade, shipping and economic dynamics. The analysis of trade and shipping aims at discovering internal or potential economic connections between the three regions. Although there is abundant literature on the economic development of both Singapore and Indonesia, specific descriptions of Johor and Riau, or the three regions as a whole, are scarce. On the one hand, this research plan examines the export-oriented economy of Indonesia in the case of Riau and shows to what extent the Riau economy differs from the national economy. On the other hand, it intends to complement the regional economic study by combining Riau, Johor and Singapore together.

Guided by the above information, this research plan is specified by the following questions:

(1)   How did the economic connections between Singapore, Johor and Riau develop in terms of trade and shipping from the 1870s to the 1970s?
(2)   Which factors accounted for the development of these connections?
(3)   What was the influence of these connections on the regional politics and society and what was the response in the colonies?

Xiaodong has defended his thesis on 4 November 2015 at Leiden University.

Manjusha Kuruppath - Casting Despots in Dutch Drama: The Case of Van Steenwyk’s Thamas Koelikan

Certain ‘sit-at-home’ playwrights in the seventeenth and eighteenth century Dutch Republic made contemporary or past events which occurred in the Orient, the themes in their dramas. Because these playwrights had to acquire knowledge about these episodes to dramatize them, their works centrally revolved around the idea of transfer. The dramatists relied on first hand narratives and travel accounts about the Orient that were published in Europe for their information and imagery. And these first hand accounts were often cumulative works which appealed to other sources such as letters and official reports for the information they carried. As a result, these plays constituted the end products of long chains of information transfer originating in the Orient and relayed to Europe through various literary genres by means of numerous processes. Studies on Orientalism and issues of representation in European authored works on the Orient have ignited academic attention in past decades. Yet, the flows of information involved in the formulation of literary works about the Orient have gone unnoticed despite the potential the study holds in helping understand, in detail, the making of Orientalist imagery.

One such work was the Dutch play titled Thamas Koelikan. Penned by the Amsterdammer Frans van Steenwyk in 1745, the play dramatized Nadir Shah Afshahar’s expedition into Mughal India in 1739. This work which constituted the focus of my M.Phil thesis titled ‘Casting Despots in Dutch Drama: The Case of Van Steenwyk’s Thamas Koelikan’ [shortened version published in the Indian Economic and Social History Review 48, 2 (April 2011), 241-286] revealed the fascinating participation of indigenous and VOC actors in Mughal India in producing information about a historical event – the Persian invasion of Mughal India in 1739. This information itself and the involvement of various agents in producing this knowledge was found to greatly influence the manner in which the Orient was represented in Van Steenwyk’s drama. My current PhD research dwells on similar themes of representation and information transfer but casts a wider net to include three other works of Dutch drama written and sometimes staged in the Low Countries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which made historical events of Asian extraction the subject matter in their plays. The principal questions that the study asks are how these works of Dutch Drama depicted the Orient, how representation in these texts were influenced by the channels they relied on for gathering information and what role the Dutch East India Company played as a go-between in this process.

Manjusha defended her thesis in November 2014 at Leiden University.

Pham Van Thuy - Towards a National Economy in Indonesia: A Study of Political Economy and Comparison with Vietnam, 1945-1960

The aim of this project is to understand the process of Indonesia’s economic emancipation from the Dutch colonial economy. Attention will be given to the changing ideas of Indonesian nationalist leaders concerning the economic legacies of Dutch colonialism that remained in Indonesia after independence. What should be discarded and what were to be retained? What was the ideal system of economy in the views of Indonesian nationalists and why did the Indonesian government shift from a liberal system in the late 1940s and early 1950s to a guided system in the last part of the 1950s? A comparison with Vietnam will give insights into the question why the two countries, while sharing similar characteristics of colonization, Japanese occupation, and revolution, underwent their economic decolonization in very different ways. Indonesia took full control of the country’s economy in the late 1950s, almost ten years after the transfer of sovereignty. Meanwhile, in Vietnam the withdrawal of French companies from North Vietnam took place at the same time with the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. My research forms part of a larger research project “State and Economy in Modern Indonesia’s Change of Regimes”, co-ordinated by Dr. J. Thomas Lindblad at the History Department of Leiden University.

completed his PhD research project in 2014 at Leiden University.

Farabi Fakih - Indonesian State Institution during Regime Change (1950-1965)

The history of the Indonesian state at the second half of the twentieth century has been that of a failed state which transformed rather abruptly into a relatively successful developmental state under the aegis of a military-technocracy. It looks at this transitory period (1950-1965) as being important in developing the foundation of the New Order period (1965-1998). The focus of the research project is to take another look at the period as one of transition from a colonial state to a ‘developmentalist’ state by examining the institutional changes in the way the state functioned in terms of developmental policy making. How the Indonesian state and its elites coped with the loss of Dutch expertise during the early 1950s, the problems plaguing its administration because it lacked a strong and centralized state and the institutional development designed to solve that problem is looked at. The role of the military and the technocracy in transforming the administrative apparatus of the Indonesian bureaucracy is a central to understanding the transition. As is also the international Cold War context, especially American aid which introduced new ideas about scientific management and public administration.

 has completed his PhD research in May 2014 at Leiden University.

Murari Jha - The Political Economy of the Ganga River: Highways of State-formation in Mughal India, c.1600-1800

This research proposes to study the main routes, both riverine and overland, along the eastern track of the Ganga River. Together these routes served as the spine of empire in northeastern India. Political, economic and cultural activities converged on this highway system and as such was thoroughly exploited by consecutive Afghan, Mughal and British rulers to build and run their stunningly powerful and wealthy Indian empires. However, it almost defies belief that despite a plethora of regional studies, the Ganga River has never ever been studied as the prime political and economic axis of the Mughal Empire.

Although for various regions of the Indian Ocean, historians have investigated the complex linkages between the coast and the hinterland, the gap between the scholarships of continental states and maritime trading companies is yet to be bridged. One question to keep in mind is the "logistical" difference between continental and maritime economies. For example, should we agree with the historian Whiting Fox by suggesting that continental states were organized on the more coercive extraction of their agricultural surplus whereas the littoral, constituting that "other India", was based on a more consultative, voluntary exchange of commodities over relatively long distance?

Thus, seeking a link between these two apparently different worlds we can ask ourselves: how the coastal economy of Bengal at the Ganga delta interacted with the upriver hinterland of Hindustan? An investigation into this issue will help synthesize the divergent interpretations of the decline of the Mughal state that were reached by Aligarh and revisionist historians in the 1990's. Again, the Ganga River as the most obvious link between the coast and the hinterland, has been almost entirely neglected by these historians. Besides, the study will also shed new light on the organization of the Mughal state and, once again, will raise the issue of decline from a new and relatively long-term, inside perspective. In fact, the Ganga River offers the historian a unique thermometer that indicates the alternating health of the Mughal body politic. It is high time to take up the challenge and explore that huge quantity of contemporary documents produced by some of those millions of warriors, traders, bureaucrats, pilgrims and other wayfarers, who frequented this route during these two centuries of Mughal rule.

defended his dissertation in Leiden in June 2013.

Last Modified: 09-02-2016