Tuesday, September 27, 2016

2016 International Summer School in Berlin

In Feb/March 2016, we had our summer school held in UGM, Yogja. We are fortunate to receive fund from Erasmus + to conduct another round of summer school in Berlin in the same year. The unique of the Berlin summer school is that the study of Southeast Asia as an area is conducted in a non-Southeast Asian area. 

Berlin is certainly a great city to study about memory and memory making. Berlin offers not only the variety of monuments and memorial sites, there is a line-up of narratives and counter-narratives that the city engages with national history and the community of particular place. 

In the first week of the summer school, the students (as well as the lecturers) are exposed to places that essentially form the history of Berlin yet are marginalised from the national history of Germany. 

Below are some sites that students visited in which at later stage they were assigned to choose one site for their "fieldwork" so as to engage in a dialogue on memory making processes with the site, so to speak.

Deutsches Historisches Museum
Deutsches Historisches Museum

Traces of German Military History in Berlin

At Tempelhof

Sites allocated to students 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Walking in George Town (photos)

Here are photos from the walking tour of George Town (led by Kuah Li Feng on 15 March 2015) that some summer school participants went on. I organise this walk every year for undergraduates taking my course on Societies & Cultures of Southeast Asia. This year, our timing was felicitous, and summer school postgrads (and lecturers) were able to join the walk too. For more photos, go here.

Walking up the Chinese Assembly Hall

Paying attention to the street. Li Feng on right, with summer school lecturers Brooke Nolan and Aleah Conley behind her.

Final stop: Acheh Mosque

Monday, April 13, 2015

Doing oral history in George Town

Here is an interesting blog on doing oral history in Leboh Chulia, George Town, originated by one of our summer school lecturers, Kuah Li Feng:

George Town Oral History: Preserving history, creating community, building a sense of place

The blog primarily focuses on methodology: how-to. Some useful lessons there for the aspiring oral historian / memory-maker.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Knowledge gained from the summer school programme

Hi friends! This is Yat Kuan from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). Wherever you are right now, I believe that you guys are doing fine.

Here, I would like to briefly share about what I have learned from this summer school programme and also field research conducted in Georgetown, Penang. Honestly, my knowledge on history is finite because I am originally not from historical background. Initially, I felt anxiety because I have not much knowledge on history. However, throughout a series of lectures class, I feel relax because the classes were very fascinated and all of the lecturers were willing to share their knowledge and even experiences.

During the first week of the programme, some classes are scheduled for us to get better understanding on what is about "past" and how is the "past" shape the memory and identity of the people in the society. Lecturers such as Prof. Vincent Houben, Prof. Bambang Purwanto, Dr. Soon, Dr. Margana, Dr. Lye, Dr. Mahani, Aleah, Li Feng and Brooke shared their knowledge and experiences in history and even field research as well. They are expert enough to give fascinating classes on historical knowledge and share their fieldwork research. Besides, some case studies were presented well by the lecturers in order to provide abundant of information on history, namely Germany and Quebec, Banyuwangi, Netherlands, Philippines, Georgetown and so on and so forth. Apart from the sharing session of case studies, some conceptual knowledge, includes history, collective memory, historiography, identity, embodiment and qualitative research methods also have been shared and discussed during the classes. By this means, I have gained a lot of historical knowledge which may be included in my future research.

Teochew Puppet and Opera House
During the second week of the programme, we conducted a field research in a place that is well-known of its heritage sites in Georgetown, Penang. I have been grouped with a German friend, Sandra and an Indonesian friend, Riris to conduct a research on Teochew Puppet and Opera House. Teochew Puppet and Opera House is a Teochew-based museum located in 122, Armenian Street, Georgetown. It operated since last year by Ling Goh, the director of the museum and aims to bring back the traditional Teochew culture to the public. 

Representing Teochew culture: Puppets
During the field research, we were lucky to have a chance to visit to the museum and study the Teochew culture in-depth. With that, we learned about how it constructs the memory and identity of public. Initially, our group had made a call to Ling Goh and asked her permission to do an interview with us. But unfortunately, due to her full scheduled throughout the year, we are not able to interview her. Luckily, our group managed to contact her assistant, Mr. Chew, who works in the museum and have abundant of knowledge about the Teochew culture and museum itself. He was passionate in explaining the embedded messages in Teochew culture which include how it he local memory, collective memory and even cultural identity of public, especially for the Teochew's group. 

According to Mr. Chew, the museum is functioning as a platform that provides a better understanding on Teochew culture, especially the puppet shows and live performances. Puppet shows is the representative of Teochew culture and it often plays by Ling Goh herself and also puppeteers from her Teochew Opera Troupe. Normally, the small puppet shows and live performances are performed in the museum and open to public. However, the opera troupe will be invited to perform in various places, such as local temples and those in Thailand and Cambodia during the major festivals or celebrations. Other than that, the Teochew Puppet and Opera House is also available in Facebook. Public can add them (潮艺馆Teochew Puppet & Opera) and drop their comments in the page. Public can even get the updated information from the page regarding the time schedule of the opera show.

(From left to right): Riris, I and Sandra playing 
puppet in the museum
(From left to right): Riris, Sandra and I
wearing traditional costumes
in the museum

In the museum, there are many Teochew displays, includes puppets, headgears, weapons, cosmetics, music instruments, scripts and costumes set are distributed around the museum. When I first step into the museum, I was not only a researcher, but also a visitor.  I went around the museum and tried to understand Teochew culture by asking help from Mr. Chew for more explanation. He is an enthusiastic guide who had shared a lot of information and knowledge about Teochew culture to my group mates and I. Besides, he shared his working experience and the origin and structure of Teochew puppet shows.

Apart from the sharing session from Mr. Chew, Riris, Sandra and I have an extraordinary experience to play the puppet and wear the traditional costumes, which are worn by the opera performers for their live performance. Generally, the costumes are matched with headgears, weapons and sometimes with some accessories. Every characters have their own set of costumes which represent different roles in the opera shows.

I enjoyed these two weeks of the summer school programme and it has benefited me on the knowledge about the "past". Meanwhile, I have an opportunity to get interactions with all the lecturers and friends from Germany, Indonesia, Vietnam and even Malaysia. Once again, thanks for their sharing and discussion throughout the programme. I wish all of you the best in the future.  It has been my pleasure to have you guys in these two weeks summer school programme. Take Good Care and do Keep in Touch!

Last but not least, I would like to express my appreciation especially to Dr. Soon and Dr. Lye for giving me an opportunity to take part in this interesting programme.

Thank you!!!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Field research at Tua Peh Kong temple

Dear readers of this blog,

My name is Andreas Betsche and I took part in the 2015 International Summer School at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang. Apart from an interesting series of lectures on Memory Making and Heritage the participants of this year’s summer school had to conduct a research project in small groups. My group consisted of four international students from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Germany, namely Mohammad Hazizi, Rina Rahayu, Nguyen Ngoc Thanh and I. In the following entry I want to share with you the results of our research on the Tua Peh Kong Temple on Armenian Street, Penang and talk a bit about the research process. The goal is to draw a comprehensive picture of what it means to do research in this summer school programme.

The topic: a chosen one 

Tua Peh Kong temple
We selected our topic, the Tua Peh Kong temple, from a set of pre-elected heritage sites in and around the UNESCO world heritage of the city of George Town. This gave us the possibility to follow our own interests while our lecturers made sure that we have good access and informants to start with. Most of you might not be familiar with this site so I will give a brief introduction to the temple.

The shop houses
Tua Peh Kong Temple (or Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple) is a Chinese temple at the corner of Armenian Street and Cannon Street in the city centre of George Town. The temple is placed in a backyard hidden behind 9 shop houses on Armenian street which also belong to the temples compound. Today this is an area much visited by tourists. Here are some extra facts about the temple's history:

  • The temple is around 170 years old
  • Mainly serves the worship of Tua Peh Kong, an earth god responsible for climate and prosperity
  • In the 19th century the temple was owned by a so-called Chinese “secret society”
  • After the 1867 Penang riots the society had to sell the temple but managed to keep it in their own lines. The descendants still manage the temple within 4 brotherhood societies and a board of trustees.
  • Between 2002 and 2006 the temple has been restored with the goals to achieve authenticity and preserve valuable Chinese heritage

How to enter a field unknown

With these little information we tried to enter a field mainly unknown to us. None of us speaks any Chinese language or has ever worked in a Chinese environment before. That is why we decided to start with an open exploration of the site and conduct a few more or less unstructured talks in English and Malay (I’d rather not call them interviews) with two informants, one that has been provided by USM and the other we met in the temple. This talks gave us valuable information with two interesting facts:

  • Apart from the temple members the tenants of the shop houses are deeply connected to the site, as they live on-site.
  • The restoration brought up a conflict of gentrification on the rent the tenants have to pay. This conflict has been solved with the help of an outside organisation.

About these new insights and our background on Memories and the role of heritage we drafted three research questions:

  1. What is the collective memory among the communities of the temple?
  2. How is the relationship between the owners and the tenants?
  3. How did the situation change after restoration?

In regard of the openness of our questions we chose to find answers and collect our primary data through semi-structured interviews with three people. One is a member of the temples board of trustees and therefore representing the owners. One was in charge of the project for affordable housing and negotiated between owners and tenants. Finally, we interviewed one tenant whose family has been living in one of the shop house for three generations.

Data Analysis: a monster tamed

Busy doing the analysis: 
Hazizi, Thanh, Rina (f.l.t.r)
To analyse the data properly we needed to rearrange the data using topic coding (Richards 2005, p. 85-104). This method helped us to quickly find out which topics came up during the interviews and seemed relevant to the interviewees. With the help of these topics we conducted a thematic network analysis (Attridge-Sterling 2007, p. 125-145) to find out which memory themes we could discover and how they relate to each other. To do this we needed to find basic themes, group them in organising themes and them find at least one master theme.

Basic themes found in the primary data:

  • History of the temple
  • Secret society
  • Member of the temple
  • Chinese culture
  • Temple as a protector
  • Promoting chinese culture
  • Quantity of visitors
  • Temple as a private area
  • Conflicts within temple members
  • Traditional games (Mah-jong, cards, coin games)
  • (New) Generations habits – Forgetting the culture
  • Family – fathers
  • Senses of belonging
  • Childhood activities – Playing at the street
  • Restoration
  • Authenticity (Restore the past)
  • Heritage commerce
  • Community response to the restoration
  • Quality of the neighbourhood
  • Regularly visitors to the temple – praying
  • Relationship between owner and tenants (Rent, restoration)
  • People coming together (Festival)
  • Neighbourhood as a living and vivid space

Regrouped as organising themes:

1. Hokkien Chinese history
  • Memory of the temple
  • Story of success

2. Life and change

  • Daily activities

3. Commercialisation

  • Bringing back former glory
  • Commemorating the Past

4. Sense of community

  • Social interactions
  • Daily activities

Which finally gave us the following master theme:

→ Different community memories competing in—one—shared heritage site


With this conclusion we want to emphasise the importance of memory research and especially the research of memories “off the beaten track”. We realised the restoration of the temple highlights the values of a Chinese heritage and culture and tries to bring back these memories. This can be considered the main or dominating narrative. On the other side the memories of the tenants focus on daily life activities and the overall quality of the neighbourhood. Their memory of the place I much more bound to a sense of belonging. It appears the role of the temple as a religious and cultural relic is not considered strong. These memories appear to be considered secondary and at the same time almost invisible when visiting the temple. We found out the there not just one memory of a site but many (often competing) memories. If we dig deeper we might find even more memories. These different ideas about the past need to be considered when a site is declared part of the world heritage.

At the end I need to say that I enjoyed our small fieldwork. We started with an alienating field which during one week became familiar to us. Thanks to excellent group work challenged the language problems and the time constraints. The analysis was the perfect time to bring in everyone’s opinions and ideas which finally settled in results. While we know that further research on this topic needs to be done and our work only scratches the surface we are still proud of what we achieved in such a short period. This would not have been possible without the excellent support of our lecturers from USM and HU and the help of other students who helped us with translations and research questions. I want to thank all of you for giving us this extraordinary possibility and make this summer school a huge success.

Please feel free to ask questions or comment on our research project! In case you are interested in further information about how the rent conflict between owners and tenants has been resolved, please have a look at this video by Think City.


Attridge-Sterling, Jennifer. 2007. "Thematic Networks: An Analytic Tool for Qualitative Research". In: Qualitative Research 2. Volume 4. Qualitative Data Analysis. Sage: London. P. 125-145.

Richards, Lyn. 2005. Handling Qualitative Data. A Practical Guide. Sage: London.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Recollecting my memory of the summer school

Hi everyone! This is Elween from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). Wherever you are right now, I hope all of you are doing fine.

I would like to briefly share what I have learned throughout the programme. My knowledge on history is basically built upon the foundation of the phrase ‘history is constructed’. It was from the reading of journals on historiography, or writing of history, that has helped me to acquire knowledge on the subject. The journal article by Lorenz (2010) has particularly provided clear explanations on how nationalist historians highlighted certain aspects of Germany’s and Quebec’s past to contribute to the endeavours of nation-building as opposed to contesting historiographies that are developed from the other paradigms. 

My understanding of historiography has paved the way for me to have a better grasp on various discourses on memory. I believe the argument presented by Olick and Robbins (1998) has constructed a meaningful yet to a certain extent controversial linkage between history and memory -“History is dead memory, a way of preserving pasts to which we no longer have an “organic” experiential relation” (p.110). While some scholars concurred that the history loses its halo because of its constant epistemological assertions as compared to memory, which they perceive has less rigid specificities, there are also others who argued that even (collective) memory is just as problematic because of its selective nature.

One of the Sungai Batu excavation sites
The ambiguity here, I suppose, has also opened up our mind, in one way or another, to make sense of certain problematic aspects we discovered during our fieldwork at the archaeological museum and the Sungai Batu excavation site in Bujang Valley, Kedah. For instance, there are moments when Dieka, Lara, Lissi and I struggled to decide on our research question due to lack of knowledge about Bujang Valley. The biggest concerns we had was: What exactly is Bujang Valley? Is it a settlement where we can obtain bits and pieces of collective memory from the museum and other aspects of its collective memory at excavation sites, or an ancient civilisation with literary evidence that could provide us a glimpse into its constructed history? Is there a way to identify the respective elements that could potentially be ‘collective memory’ and the officially recognised ‘history’? How do we analyse them? All these unanswered questions have led us to agree to set our research question as broadly as possible – What is the significance of Bujang Valley?

From left to right: Dieka, Lara and Lissi
busy preparing presentation slides
Moving forward, several lectures on the idea of ‘embodiment’, which I think was introduced during Brook’s lecture, have also been an eye-opening experience. The idea of looking at rituals, gestures and monuments as forms of embodiment, which, I learned from my further reading, is associated with inscribed memory, is rather new to me. Dr Margana too has shed light on how embodiment is related to monuments and various cultural movements to put an end to the stigmatization of the Banyuwangi people even though he did not dwell specifically into the theoretical concept. Embodiment piqued my interest because I find it to be relevant to my master’s thesis research topic - on gender identity (M2F/F2M) in cosplay/crossplay.

I am fond of the lecture, or rather sharing session, on the Indo-Dutch community and their identity formation in the Netherlands by Prof Vincent, and was intrigued by Dr Soon’s lecture on how politicians in the Philippines utilised the social memory of massa (people) on past heroes, whom they are affiliated with, to gain political mileage. Threading the trails of the indigenous people such as Batek and Penan during Dr Lye’s lecture has helped me to learn what the phrase ‘other ways of remembering’ really means (thanks Lara for the further explanation during our mini discussion^^).

I wish to express my gratitude to Prof Bambang for raising some complicated issues with regard to Indonesia’s independence during its early post-colonial era, Li Feng for sharing her research findings in the Georgetown UNESCO site with us, and Dr Mahani for introducing us to the history of Lebuh Acheen. A special thanks to Yaya for being our ‘on-site lecturer’ throughout our fieldwork in Bujang Valley. Last but not least, a big thank you to Aleah, who always showed concern on our work progress, helped us to arrange transport to get to Bujang Valley and gave us useful tips on research methods.

To all the German, Indonesian and Malaysian students, I wish all of you the best in your future endeavours. It has been a pleasure being in this two-week summer school with you. Take care!  

P/S: I would also like to thank Ms Chiok Phaik Fern and Dr Adrian Lee for encouraging me to take part in this educational programme.

Lorenz, Chris. (2010). Double trouble: A comparison of the politics of national history in Germany and Quebec. In Stefan Berger, and Chris Lorenz (Eds.), Nationalizing the past: Historians as nation-builders in modern Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Olick, Jeffrey, and Joyce Robbins. (1998). Social memory studies: From “collective memory” to the historical sociology of mnemonic practices. Annual Review of Sociology, 24(1), pp.105-140.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Thank you note from Sakiinah

Hi I'm Sakiinah from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), a Masters student in Political Science. Initially I joined this program to fill my time while waiting for my viva since I just submitted my thesis a few weeks before that. My interest has always been on history so the summer school helped me to learn more about my heritage and the community I live in.

The class started with an intensive understanding on memory making and its relation to the way we interact and relate to our heritage. To some, history might be boring, but to me its a way to discover about our own roots and heritage.

I particularly like the quote that one of the group presented which is:

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.- Marcus Garvey

The quote summarized what the whole programme is about, which to me is to learn about our past history, origin and culture that we may have slowly lose touch of. Little did I know that what started as something I do for fun, which is making my own lil Penang tour in Georgetown would enable me to relate with the lectures that was taught in class and our group assignment.  Both the lectures and my personal experience kind of compliment with each other, so it was a good opportunity to apply what I experience with what I learn in class.

Although I was born in Penang, I was not really raised here so I did not know much about Penang until I studied in USM. The programme helped me to reconnect with my past and helped me learn about Penang. Apart from that I learnt a lot from other students' culture and experience. I was surprised to discover that at least 3 of the German students, Lara, Eva, and Sandra can speak Malay although in Indonesian but it was still a lovely surprise. Sometimes, I even forget that they are Germans because of how fluent they are speaking in Malay. So there wasn't much difference at all even though we have different culture, nationality and language.

Our group, myself, Fabian, Oanh and Makrus is probably one of the best group I have ever collaborated with. At first, I was quite afraid of Fabian and his tall, non-smiling German-ness, and I'm pretty sure other Asian student in our group was a little scared as well. But once we started working on our assignment, things worked out pretty well especially after treating ourselves with ice cream by the end of our fieldwork. It was great to see how much Makrus & Oanh improved in their presentation after our practice, everyone pretty much contributed their own part in the assignment so it's just a matter of how you use your potential in the task given. Below are a photo of our group

For those interested to join the summer school program, I really recommend you to join this program. Its a good exposure and an opportunity to get to know people outside your own comfort zone. English shouldn't be much of a problem, some of us didn't speak fluently but it was a good opportunity for them to practice their english. Also, we get to pick up a few Vietnam, German, Indonesian word as well. 

In fact, we had a good time making our own movie night watching 'Sepet' , a malaysian film by the late Yasmin Ahmad. We also had a good discussion on a documentary of the Dutch and Indo Dutch who returned to Netherland after the Second World War in Indonesia ended (Contractpensions - Djangan Loepah).

In between the class and after the class ends, we hung out for lunch or dinner so it's not just about going to class only. Most of the foreign students are already so good taking a bus to Georgetown on their own to find souvenirs to bring back home.

Anyway, thank you to all the lecturers, namely Professor Vincent Houben, Dr Lye Tuck Po, and Dr Soon for organizing this program also for the lecture and experience shared. Also to our coordinator, Aleah for her hard work in ensuring the success of the program, good luck on your PhD!

Lastly to all my classmates, thank you for the memories! :)
Best wishes,