Abstract

As a way of opening this critique of historical writing on early Southeast Asia, I ask, What interest do today's historians have in studying early Southeast Asia? What are they looking for in the early past? An essay by F. R. Ankersmit, in which he talks about what the modern reader brings to evidence from the past, serves as a point of departure for my answer. Rather than labor at accumulating more and more evidence about the past, historians should reflect on the difference between our own mentality and that of an earlier period. The past acquires point and meaning “only through confrontation with the mentality of the later period in which the historian lives and writes.” The experience of confronting this mentality Ankersmit calls “the historical sensation,” “which is accompanied by the complete conviction of genuineness, truth” (Ankersmit 1989:146). “A phase in historiography has perhaps now begun,” he says, “in which meaning is more important than reconstruction and genesis.”

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