Perspectives on the Past (PoP) is a research and reading group within the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC) at the University of Sydney. Our disciplinary backgrounds are diverse: archaeology, history, oral history, heritage, performance studies, philology, art history and museology.


This group meets up every month at the University of Sydney to hash out, flesh out, and sometimes hotly debate Southeast Asian historiography and heritage studies. In a truly interdisciplinary encounter, we try and see how our various viewpoints can meet and move together, be it through confrontation or conciliation: we welcome both!

This blog is for us to share our thoughts, adventures and discoveries about the pasts of Southeast Asia. You can also join in the activity on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you have something to say about this subject and want to write a guest post, by all means email us at [email protected]

We gratefully acknowledge the support of SSEAC and the Sydney Social Studies and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC).

Who we are



Natali Pearson is a PhD candidate at the Department of Museum and Heritage Studies. Her research contextualises the so-called Belitung (or Tang) shipwreck within a broader consideration of what constitutes an ethical approach to protecting and preserving underwater cultural heritage. Despite the romance of shipwrecks and the lure of sunken treasure, it is important to remember that maritime archaeology and research on underwater cultural heritage is much broader than ancient wrecks and lost gold. She says this, admittedly, as a researcher whose work is solely focused on a shipwreck.



Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan is a PhD candidate in the Asian Studies Program. He argues for new perspectives in Southeast Asian history and historical theory, based on a conviction that traditional manuscripts should be valued more highly by the historical profession. His research looks for a path beyond the impasse faced by many scholars of these texts: whether to treat them as reliable historical sources or as ahistorical cultural products. By advocating for an expanded definition of historicity that includes alternative methods of temporal organisation, he shows how narrowly-construed Western criteria for historicity are unsuited to Southeast Asian texts.



Michael Leadbetter is from the Department of Archaeology. Michael’s research explores the trajectories and transformations of urbanism in coastal and maritime Southeast Asia between 600-1600CE. His project provides a new way of understanding large-scale phenomena in Southeast Asia and enables further comparisons of trends beyond the regional and temporal scope of the thesis. An examination of the development and transformation of urbanism will help us understand the impacts of past climate changes on Southeast Asian urban societies and the resilience of modern Southeast Asian cities to climate change.



Cheng Nien Yuan is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies. She re-frames the ‘call to performance’ in oral history within Singapore, her home country. Her project questions the assumptions – especially of power and empowerment – made in the fields of both performance studies and oral history and aims to challenge the idea that these ways of thinking and doing can be uncritically applied to other cultural contexts. Can applied ideas of performance and performativity resist Singapore’s top-down, univocal and regimented historiography (oral or otherwise)? Ultimately, this new framework hopes to allow Singaporeans to experience and appreciate bodily the different voices in their country’s past.



Sony Karsono is the honorary member of PoP and our ‘foreign correspondent’. He completed his PhD in Ohio University in 2013 and we met him when he was a postdoctoral research fellow in Sydney University in 2016. He has since returned to Indonesia and is preparing a historical monograph on the Indonesian middle classes and their quest for modernity, 1900-1998.