Candidate Profile

History - General
Politics & Current Affairs
Robert is an Australian historian with a wide range of interests in modern Asian and the Pacific. He has a nose for interesting topics and has written on the role of gangsters in the Indonesian revolution against the Dutch, on opium smuggling, on historical maps, on the politics of nature conservation, on war crimes trials in Asia and 400 years of human interaction with orangutans. He has long experience of university teaching across the whole of Asian history and delights in enthusing undergraduates with the span of historical change in Asia and the Pacific. He also teaches a popular course called Lies, Conspiracy and Propaganda that dissects the role of deception in public and private life.

Robert grew up in Queensland and spent much of his youth in the bush and on the barrier reef with his botanist parents. He turned to history for his own career and studied at the University of Queensland and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. During his academic career he has lived in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Singapore and Denmark. He speaks fluent Dutch and Indonesian (he can lecture in those languages), and has conversational German, a bit of Danish and a smattering of Japanese. He has led overland natural history tours to Indonesia.

Southeast Asia
1. The story of Indonesia: improbable nation
With 18,000 islands and around 400 ethnic groups, Indonesia appears to be an unlikely nation. This lecture traces the basic geopolitics of the archipelago, its history under European colonialism and the story of political contention since independence to explain why Indonesia makes sense.

2. Borobudur: window on ancient Java
Borobudur is a 9th century Buddhist monument in Central Java. The structure of the monument and the rich carvings on its walls reveal much about the beliefs, society and ecology of Java more than 1000 years ago.

3. The mysterious orang pendek (short person) of Sumatra: another species of human?
For six centuries, reports have suggested the presence of an ancient species of human living in the jungles of Sumatra. This lecture explores the tantalizing evidence that other human species may still be living alongside us.

4. Wayang: Java's shadow puppet play
Shadow puppets are one of the most distinctive and intriguing feature of traditional Javanese culture. How did they develop? What role do they play in Javanese society? What do they tell us about Javanese beliefs?

5. The Dutch East India Company: the world’s first corporate titan
The Dutch East India Company was formed at the beginning of the 17th century to manage the Dutch spice trade in the East Indies. It grew to become the world's largest ever corporation in terms of its share of the global economy. In doing so, it shaped forever the history of the Indonesian archipelago.

6. Running amok
Running amok was historically associated with the Malay world. 'Amok' is one of the few Malay words that has been adopted into English. But what actually happens when someone runs amok? Is it really a part of Malay culture, or instead something universal?

7. Volcanoes in Indonesia
74,000 years ago, a supervolcano eruption in Sumatra helped trigger the emergence of humans as the dominant species on the planet. Since that time, the volcanoes of Indonesia, scattered along the so-called 'Ring of Fire' that girdles the Pacific have shaped environment and culture not just in in the archipelago but also across the globe.

8. Orangutans? How much like us are they really?
The orangutan ('person of the forest') is an endangered great ape of the jungles in Borneo and Sumatra? For centuries, observers have been fascinated by their resemblance to humans and have wondered just what that resemblance means for human identity.

9. Indonesia's traditional weapons and fighting arts
Explore the fascinating traditional weapons of Indonesia, including the sinuous dagger known as kris, darts poisoned with upas and charms that confer invulnerability.

10. Food cultures of Indonesia
Indonesia's position at the crossroads of many Asian trade routes has given it a rich and varied food culture. Indonesian cooks have adopted and transformed cuisine from India, China, the Arab World and the West. From tempeh and kari to martabak and rijsttafel, this lecture explores the history of food in Indonesia.

East Asia

1. Why build a Great Wall? China's relations with its northern neighbours
Even though it is not visible from space, the Great Wall of China is a massive defence work. When did Chinese kingdoms start building walls and why? What kind of enemies did they face? And what does the Wall mean in Chinese civilization?

2. Genghis Khan: behind the myths
Just who was the man behind the world's largest-ever empire? From modest beginnings as the son of a minor tribal chief, the man originally called Temujin created a Mongol identity, a new form of army and an ideology of world conquest.

3. When the Mongols met their match
The Mongols were among the greatest conquerors of all time, but they were defeated four times in Asia - in their invasions of Japan (twice), Vietnam and Java. Explore Mongol strategy and the reasons they failed in these operations.

4. Japan's road to war in 1941
How and why did the Second World War begin in the Asia Pacific region? Explore the roots of the War in great power rivalries of the 1930s.

5. Japan's war, 1941-1945
What was life like in Japan as the tide of war turned steadily against Japan? Discover the everyday experiences of ordinary Japanese as they first watched in amazement and pride as Japan vanquished its enemies and then gradually discovered the awful price that they would pay for their leaders' mistakes.

6. Opium and imperialism: the world's first drug problem
In the 19th century, Britain and China fought two wars over the question of whether opium traders would have access to the Chinese market. Why was opium such an important commodity? How did the wars affect China? When did global attitudes to drugs begin to change?


1. The history of language
When did humans begin to speak? What causes new languages to develop? Why do languages change? What makes languages different and will Chinese ever replace English as the world language?

2. What if? Do counter-factuals make sense in history?
When does it make sense to ask whether things could have been different?

3. Predicting the future
Planning for the future has long been a basic part of human endeavour, but we have always wanted to go further and to look beyond the obvious. Some people use fortune tellers, but there are much more sophisticated techniques for getting an idea of what the future may hold.

In preparation

History of Bali
Komodo's dragon and the scientific discovery of Indonesia
Sailors, serpents and dingos: Australia’s ancient connections with Asia
Uncovering conspiracy
The Second World War in Southeast Asia
Singapore in 1942: did the guns really point the wrong way?
Asia for the Asians? What was Japan’s political strategy during the Second World War?
Colonialism in Southeast Asia
Ancient kingdoms of Southeast Asia
Settling the tropics: a history of Queensland
Puppet states from the French Revolution to Kosovo
Indonesia's first president: Sukarno's enigmatic personality
New Guinea: the great island
Timor: backwater at the crossroads
Borneo: jungle island
Australia's top end
Torres strait
Chinese in Southeast Asia
Zheng He
European adventurers in Southeast Asia
What is Islam?
Singapore stories
They all ran wild
The history of whaling
The white rajas of Sarawak
Sakhalin, Kamchatka and the Russian Far East
Years ago I led five natural history tours to Indonesia (volcanoes, national parks etc.). Now a university historian focussing on Asia (Indonesia, 2nd World War, Japan, Mongolia, Southeast Asia generally, some Pacific and Australia). Experience in broad sweep courses intended to excite undergrads. Also teach Lies, Conspiracy and Propaganda. Cruised with Viking as resident historian for Benoa-Sydney and Sydney-Auckland in Dec 2018/Jan 2019 and Dec. 2019/Jan 2020.
The following recent Cruise History has been recorded for this candidate.
Viking Orion OR191227 Australia & New Zealand 14 Sydney Friday, December 27, 2019
Viking Orion OR191211 Komodo & the Australian Coast 16 Bali Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Viking Orion OR190113 Australia & New Zealand 14 Sydney Sunday, January 13, 2019
Viking Orion OR181130 Komodo & the Australian Coast 16 Bali Friday, November 30, 2018