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The Precarious Past: Historical Practices in Premodern Java
Join Dr Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan as he steps back into the past to explore how the premodern Javanese recorded history, and how their historical practices have influenced the development of Javanese historiography.

The premodern Javanese practised history, but not as we know it. In some ways, Javanese historical practices satisfy our expectations of how history ought to be done, but in other ways, they defy them. In this seminar, I propose a new theory of historical practice, by applying historical and philological methods to the inscriptions and manuscripts of premodern Java. My key finding is that historical practices are fundamentally shaped by the conditions in which texts are created, preserved, and transmitted. At the centre of this theory is the realisation that, for the premodern Javanese, the past was precarious. This precarity was due to the difficulty of preserving and accessing original written sources, which in turn generated contradictions within the historical tradition. By understanding why the premodern Javanese practised history as they did, we can better interpret their texts and thereby improve our knowledge of Java’s history. These implications go beyond the Javanese case, because many other premodern societies pose similar challenges to our understanding of historical practice.

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Aug 26, 2021 05:00 PM in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney

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