A pioneer in the field of Southeast Asia’s environmental history, the work of Peter Boomgaard has been hugely influential. Encompassing sixteen edited volumes and two important monographs, including Southeast Asia: An Environmental History (2007), the only comprehensive textbook on the topic to date, Boomgaard’s arguments and approaches represent the region in global environmental history. Utilizing rich empirical data, he has not only charted a longue-durée picture of what such a history can look like but also provided suggestive directions for on how the environmental intersects with economic, religious, ethnographic and medical histories.
This panel brings together a group of junior scholars of global environmental history who will reflect on how engaging with Boomgaard’s scholarship has impacted their own work and how it has informed for their emerging interventions into the field. Genie Yoo reads 17th century Dutch naturalist Georg Everhard Rumphius’ Het Amboinsch Kruydboek with contemporaneous Malay textual sources to uncover unusual links between magic, religion, and medicine in Rumphius’ Kruydboek, as an extension of Peter Boomgaard’s scholarship on the historical confluence of European and Asian knowledge regarding medicine and the natural world.. Anthony Medrano historicizes tilapia culture in Southeast Asia and recovers a central yet forgotten story that speaks to, and reflects upon, the legacy of Boomgaard’s environmental work on agriculture, population, science, and Java. Miles Powell analyzes the insights from the monograph Frontiers of Fear and the edited volume Muddied Waters as an entry point into Singapore’s environmental history, introducing fresh vectors of exploration in understanding human-animal relationships on both the island and its surrounding waters. Faizah Zakaria revisits Boomgaard's seminal textbook, with its overarching thesis on the decisive role of global commerce in accelerating environmental change in the region and considers how religious and cultural influences on economic behavior can augment this analysis, using the trade in Sumatran camphor as a case study.
The papers in all emphasize the transnational, more-than-human interactions that produced the contours of a Malay world. Together with Boomgaard, the panel seeks to resituate the region not simply as a space defined by language or ethnicity but as a liminal site where the transnational cross-cultural exchanges emerged constitutively with environmental change, which in turn had profound social and political consequences.