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



Dr Natali Pearson researches and teaches at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, the University of Sydney, where she is affiliated with the School of Languages and Cultures. Her research focuses on the protection, management and interpretation of underwater cultural heritage in Indonesia. She holds a PhD in Museum and Heritage Studies (2019, USYD), a Masters of Museum Studies (2013, USYD), a Masters of Arts in Strategy and Policy (2006, UNSW Canberra) and a Bachelor of Arts (Asian Studies) with First Class Honours in Indonesian and History (2002, UNSW Sydney). Natali’s first book, Belitung: The Afterlives of a Shipwreck, will be published by University of Hawai‘i Press in November 2022. She is President of the Indonesia Council and a councillor for the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology.



Dr Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan is a postdoctoral research fellow at the École française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris. He is a historian specialising in the premodern history of Indonesia. He is especially interested in using indigenous Southeast Asian sources to rethink how history is practised. Jarrah has written widely on Southeast Asian history in leading history and area studies journals, as well as giving public and academic talks on his research. His current research project, funded by the European Research Council, focusses on the development of social institutions and state formation in eighth- to tenth-century Java. Website:



Michael Leadbetter is a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford. Michael is a Clarendon Scholar in the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford. Michael researches the long-run development of urbanism in Southeast Asia, celebrating its diversity. Michael pushes the boundary between Archaeology and the Social Sciences, with cross-disciplinary research using archaeological data to test the empirical basis of political-science models. Michael’s work on Fluid Cities has contributed to rethinking urbanism and the human/nature binary both in Southeast Asia and globally.

Michael teaches Archaeology and Anthropology at Oxford, and holds the Cyril and Philis Long Fellowship in Social Sciences at The Queen’s College Oxford. Michael co-leads the ‘Empowering Heritage Project’ at Si Thep Thailand. Michael contributes to the project ‘Sites at the Intersection of Cultural and natural Heritage’ (SXNXH) based in the Oxford School of Geography and the Environment. Previously Michael was Head tutor of Asian Studies at the University of Sydney, and held the Evans Fellowship in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. Michael’s recent article ‘The Fluid City, Urbanism as Process’ is published in World Archaeology



Dr Cheng Nien Yuan is a Singaporean performance scholar, educator and dramaturg. Nien completed her PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney in 2020 and her thesis won the 2021 John Legge Prize for Best Thesis in Asian Studies. Her work involves the politics and poetics of storytelling in the digital age. Since the pandemic, she has been a dramaturg for several works of digital theatre, including Who’s There? (2020), commissioned by New Ohio Theatre’s Ice Factory Festival, and (un)becoming (2021), for T:>Works’ N.O.W Festival. Her research has been published on Critical Stages, Studies in Theatre and Performance, and Performance Paradigm. Nien is currently researching intercultural acting pedagogy at the Intercultural Theatre Institute. Website: