I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Cornell University. I am foremost a historian of modern Southeast Asia, but my research and teaching are also informed by training in historical geography and political ecology, environmental history, maritime and oceanic histories, and science and technology studies.
My dissertation, Militarized Ecologies: Science, Violence, and the Creation of Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem (Indonesia), 1890 – 1945, is a history of the highland interior of Aceh, Indonesia. The space today is best known on a global scale for Gunung Leuser National Park, which comprises the largest contiguous wilderness in Southeast Asia and one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. If one were to do a search of Leuser online, they would discover dozens of blogs, news articles, reports, and petitions asking people to help protect the region’s forests. My project is a genealogy of that discourse; a history of Indigenous erasure in which Leuser became the property of the global “we” in the name of nature protection and UNESCO World Heritage.
The dissertation investigates two interrelated crises that shaped the future of Leuser. The Dutch referred to the first crisis as the “Aceh Problem,” alluding to four decades of war (1873-1913) in the region. In an attempt to end the war, the colonial military brutally invaded the highlands where the resistance had fled in April of 1904. On the mission, the Dutch appropriated indigenous property, collected biological specimens, mapped the region, and massacred an estimated one-third of the Gayo and Alas peoples. The 1904 military invasion marked the first European exploration of the region. By the 1920s, leaders of science and conservation in the West had already declared an environmental crisis in Leuser and demanded its protection, demarcating what would become the largest nature reserve in colonial Indonesia. So how was the interior of Aceh transformed from terra incognita and pristine nature (from the colonial perspective) in the first decade of the twentieth century to a space of imperiled (and imperial) nature only twenty years later? In exploring this question, I examine the relationships between science, conservation, and militarization in Dutch efforts to forge empire. More broadly, this project is a case study of the physical and ideological violence inherent to the global conservation project during the age of imperialism.
This project, as it currently stands, draws on historical research carried out from 2013 to 2016 in France, Germany, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. I conducted research in government and university libraries, the collections of environmental organizations, zoological institutions, natural history museums, government offices, and twenty-one archives in total. In Indonesia, I also conducted nine months of ethnographic research in North Sumatra and Aceh on short trips in 2009, 2013, and 2015. My research in Indonesia received support from the Fulbright Scholar Program (Institute of International Education), the American Historical Association, the United States-Indonesia Society, and the American Institute for Indonesian Studies, along with internal funding from Cornell University. My research in Europe was funded with an International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) awarded by the Social Science Research Council with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. I have one journal article resulting from this research and it was published in the January 2018 issue of TRaNS: Trans –Regional and –National Studies of Southeast Asia, a Cambridge University Press journal. The article is titled, “Plantations, Peddlers, and Nature Protection: The Origins of Indonesia’s Orangutan Crisis, 1910-1930,” and you can access it here: (Access Article Here)