I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Cornell University. I am a historian of modern Southeast Asia, but my research and teaching are also informed by training in historical geography, 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 global history of the Sumatran highlands of Aceh, Indonesia during the late colonial period (1890–1945), drawing together the relationships between militarization, scientific practice and knowledge production, and environmental conservation in Dutch colonial expansion. Gunung Leuser National Park, which is situated in the heart of the Leuser Ecosystem, was constructed within the broader context of war (Dutch-Aceh War 1873–1913), and this project examines the ways in which conservation and scientific practices changed perceptions of conflict, concealed militarized violence from international constituencies, and were central to military strategy.
This research is concerned with the multi-scale networks that historically produced the highlands of Aceh into the Leuser Ecosystem; a dialectical space of nature both pristine and imperiled, from the colonial perspective, in which indigenous peoples were erased discursively and legally from the land. Colonial officials and military personnel who managed the region, however, relied on indigenous expertise of the flora, fauna, and geographies in their everyday practices. This project is attentive to the points of encounter and intercultural exchange among protagonists who do not always figure prominently in histories of science, such as indigenous peoples and military personnel, and the different ways that disparate peoples conceived of tropical nature.
The history of Aceh is featured as a case study in a genealogy of an internationally renowned conservation area and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Leuser remains the largest contiguous wilderness in Southeast Asia and as such it is a hotly contested space. In writing a global history of such a place, I interrogate legacies of colonial violence and militarization, scientific exploration and bioprospecting, different conceptions of spatial production and the , the growth of zoos around the world, the wildlife trade and the West’s obsessions with Sumatran species, most notably the orangutan, the rise of the international nature protection movement in the early twentieth century, and many other phenomena that served to legitimize and facilitate dominant forms of land management. More broadly, this project is a case study of the different forms of violence inherent to the global conservation project during the age of a new imperialism.
This project draws on historical research carried out from 2013 to 2017 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)