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Performing “The Wonder” in Sumatra: Anglo-European-East Indian Publics and the History of Modernity

part of: Representations of 'Europeanness' in the Long Eighteenth Century
May 17, 2018, 4:00pm BST - 5:30pm
Department of History, Queen Mary University of London

ArtsTwo, Room 2.17
Mile End Road
London E1 4NS
United Kingdom

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Was there a ‘public sphere’ in the isolated outposts of the eighteenth century British empire? This paper will examine how one remote East India Company domain, Fort Marlborough (Bengkulu), Sumatra, anchored an array of networked publics and served as an intercultural center for the production of Englishness and Europeanness in the 1770s and 1780s.  Here the young William Marsden strove to highlight, through drama, poetry and natural history, the temporal and cultural politics of British and European rule, the distinctiveness of ‘British’ nations and Malays’ complicated “rank” in the scales of civilization. Rejang and Minangkabau peoples answered back with their own embodied performances of time, gender and cross-cultural incorporation. Addressing a global audience to celebrate the new “world history” that the British in Sumatra had inaugurated, Marsden and his colleagues were very clear that national distinctions among Europeans, and Sumatrans, mattered:  indeed, the fate of empires depended upon them.

Kathleen Wilson is Director of the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University (HISB) where she is also SUNY Distinguished Professor of History. Past President of the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, Wilson’s prize-winning scholarship encompasses addresses issues of identity and difference in eighteenth century Britain and its empire. Strolling Players of Empire: Theatre, Culture and Modernity in the British Provinces ( 2018-19), explores the politics of theatrical performances and colonial rule in sites across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean worlds. In addition to being a series editor of Critical Perspectives on Empire for Cambridge University Press, she has been awarded fellowships from the John Simon Memorial Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Huntington Library, among others.


Kathleen Wilson's talk is a part of the symposium Representations of 'Europeanness' in the Long Eighteenth Century (17-18 May 2018, Queen Mary University of London). For more information, visit the conference website:

Free registration:  

Conference organizer: Dr Soile Ylivuori, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow
School of History, Queen Mary University of London

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