Book Discussion: Faces of Indonesia, 500 postcards, 1900-1945, by Scott Merrillees

Crawford School of Public Policy | Arndt-Corden Department of Economics | Indonesia Project

Event details

Public Seminar

Date & time

Wednesday 06 October 2021


Online via Zoom


Scott Merrillees (Author)


Indonesia Project

Based on my new book Faces of Indonesia, 500 postcards, 1900-1945, the presentation will highlight the extraordinary diversity of the people of Indonesia prior to independence. I will argue that on the one hand, the decreasing visibility of this diversity today (in clothing, for instance) is an indication of successful nation-building. On the other hand, however, it also points to an erosion of valuable cultural resources possessed by the various groups. I will also contend that picture postcards, although often being dismissed as second-tier sources, are important objects of historical research. Finally, I will reflect on how the identity of the publishers and photographers shaped their work and eventual products. Picture postcard publishers and photographers in colonial Indonesia were predominantly European (and to a lesser extent Chinese), and also often commercial in their objectives. Thus, photographers often focused on what was felt to be “exotic” for their mainly European customers. While this needs to be considered when analysing the ways the various groups presented themselves (or were presented), it should not distract from the power of the postcards in delivering a compelling portrait of pre-1945 Indonesia.

Scott Merrillees (1962) was born in Melbourne, Australia, and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Melbourne in 1984, with majors in accounting and Indonesian studies. He learned the Indonesian language at high school and university in Australia (1975-1983) and at Satya Wacana University in Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia (1981-1982). He worked in Jakarta for twenty-two years from 1989-2006 and from 2008-2013, mainly in banking, capital markets and equity research. In addition to the book discussed in this event, he has published three much-praised books on the evolution of Jakarta’s physical landscape: JAKARTA: Portraits of a Capital 1950-1980; BATAVIA in Nineteenth Century Photographs; and Greetings from JAKARTA: Postcards of a Capital 1900-1950.

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