Southeast Asia Waters Series: Ghosts in the Machine: Technology and Imperialism in Maritime Asia

As part of the SEAC Southeast Asia Waters Seminar series Prof. Eric Tagliacozzo (Cornell University) will speak on technology and imperialism in maritime Asia. The talk will be chaired by Prof. John Sidel.



When can “machines be seen as the measure of men”, as the historian Michael Adas so beautifully opined? This talk focuses on three moments when technology became crucial in “wiring” maritime Asia into larger landscapes of modernity and colonization. First, we examine the laying of telegraphs across Indochina’s coasts en route to China, as the French started to plant flags in this part of the world. Second, we will look at the notion of building a canal across the Isthmus of Kra, in what is today southern Thailand, and what was then the semi-independent kingdom of Siam. Finally, we will also analyze the spread of lighthouses as Foucauldian instruments of coercion in the Anglo-Dutch sphere of Insular Southeast Asia, in land-and seascapes that currently comprise Malaysia and Indonesia. I argue in this presentation that all of these Southeast Asian processes were inter-related, and that they show in regional miniature the shadow and shape of larger forces that were then sweeping the globe.

Speaker and Chair biographies

Prof. Eric Tagliacozzo is John Stambugh Professor of History at Cornell University, where he also directs the Comparative Muslim Societies Program and the Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, and edits the journal INDONESIA. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of a dozen books on Southeast Asia, and its place in the wider seascapes of Asia writ large.

Prof. John Sidel is the Sir Patrick Gillam Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Professor Sidel received his BA and MA from Yale University and his PhD from Cornell University. He is the author of Capital, Coercion, and Crime: Bossism in the Philippines (1999), Philippine Politics and Society in the Twentieth Century: Colonial Legacies, Postcolonial Trajectories (2000), Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia (2006), The Islamist Threat in Southeast Asia: A Reassessment (2007), Thinking and Working Politically in Development: Coalitions for Change in the Philippines (2020, with Jaime Faustino) and a forthcoming book Republicanism, Communism, Islam: Cosmopolitan Origins of Revolution in Southeast Asia.

Author Meets ECR

Following the Seminar, Prof. Tagliacozzo will host a 45 minute informal session from 1.45-2.30pm, specifically for current PhD students. This will be a small group discussion around methods, career path, and other topics early career researchers would like to discuss. Please email to register for this additional session.

The event is finished.


Nov 17 2021


9:00 am - 10:15 am

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.