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Anna Blair on  ‘The resonance of ruins and the question of history’: a review

24 November 2017

 ‘The resonance of ruins and the question of history’

Review of:

Southeast Asia in Ruins: Art and Empire in the Early 19th Century, by Sarah Tiffin, Singapore: NUS Press, 2016, 302 pp., 44 col. plates, £38.95 hdbk, ISBN: 978-9971-69-849-2 17/AB1

Anna Blair (Cambridge) 17/AB1

Abstract: Southeast Asia in Ruins: Art and Empire in the Early 19th Century, by Sarah Tiffin, offers an overview of eighteenth-century interpretations of ruin as applied to the images of Java’s abandoned temples that illustrated Thomas Stamford Raffles’ The History of Java. These images were surrounded by discourse on aesthetics, politics, and religion that served to reinforce British beliefs in their own cultural superiority, and Tiffin argues that this was particularly the case in Raffles’ book, which served as a retrospective justification of his administration and reflected his personal feelings of loss. In this review, I argue that Southeast Asia in Ruins raises interesting questions about the nature of historical objectivity, visual literacy and cross-cultural ruin appreciation that have relevance beyond the period examined by the book.

Key words: Thomas Stamford Raffles, Java, trust in images, monuments, postcolonial theory

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