Laurie Sears

  • Professor
  • Walker Family Endowed Professor in History

Ph.D. University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1986

Fields: Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Comparative Colonialisms, Psychoanalysis and Colonialism, Historiography
Phone: 206-543-5745
Office: SMI 103F | Office Hours: Email for appointment

I am a social and intellectual historian of Southeast Asia with particular knowledge of the 19th and 20th century colonial Indies and postcolonial Indonesia and Java. I have spent about six years in Indonesia; my first visit to the islands of Java and Bali was in 1972-1973 before I began my graduate career. At that time I spent almost two years in central Java and Bali studying the connections between the Javanese performing arts and Javanese mystical traditions. I also lived in India for a few years and traveled between India and Greece overland several times.

 I have carried out research in central Java, Bali, and Jakarta. My specialty is the oral and written literary traditions of Java and Indonesia in Javanese, Indonesian, and Dutch. I have more recently published on the transnational discourse of psychoanalysis as it spanned the world in the 20th century. My teaching runs from more general courses on the 19th and 20th century histories of Southeast Asia to more specialized courses on the performing arts in Java. I also teach about Indonesian Islam, colonialism, imperial formations, and issues of diversity.

My first monograph Shadows of Empire: Colonial Discourse and Javanese Tales (Duke 1996) was devoted to the oral traditions surrounding the transmission of Ramayana and Mahabharata stories from India to Java. This brought me to the theatrical world of the Javanese shadow puppet theatre, the conveyer of the Indian stories in much of the Southeast Asian world. I looked at how the stories changed over the years as they moved between villages and courts, and then between village traditions and contemporary fine arts academies. I attended over 150 shadow and wooden puppet performances, as well as human performances of these stories, over the years that I have spent in Java and Bali.

My second monograph Situated Testimonies: Dread and Enchantment in an Indonesian Literary Archive (Hawai’i 2013) is devoted to the written literatures of Indonesia as they exist in Dutch, Malay, and Indonesian languages and literary traditions. This is where I have most fully developed my idea of literary works as “situated testimonies” of the past, drawing on the work of Donna Haraway and her term “situated knowledges.” I develop a methodology for historians to use literary works as part of their archives, and I suggest that fiction may be the best vehicle for capturing the social histories that elude much historical work. This book is also where I trace the discourses of psychoanalysis as they moved from Vienna to Paris and Amsterdam and then to the Indies in the early 20th century.

I have also edited a number of books, two with co-editors and three alone. Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia (Duke 1996) was the first book to bring together Indonesian and American scholars and activists to look at ideas of feminism in Indonesia. It is now a standard work in the field. I also edited Knowing Southeast Asian Subjects (Washington 2007), an exploration of the changing nature of Southeast Asian area studies in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

In the next few years I plan to teach my upper division undergraduate and graduate course “Islam, Mysticism, Politics and Performance in Indonesia” as well as “Violence, Myth and Memory,” a 300 level course that moves among Viet Nam, the Philippines, Indonesia and the U.S. I will also teach graduate seminars on Indonesian archives and oral traditions as well as my methodology class that has focused on history, trauma, and memory over the past several years. Recently I had the opportunity to teach a group of ASEAN mid-level diplomats and teachers in the country of Brunei. This was a fascinating experience where I learned a good deal about the differences between teaching American college students and teaching older Southeast Asian students. I have also traveled to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines over the past several decades. For the past eight years I have served as Director of the Southeast Asia Center and Program. Please visit our website .


HSTAS 364/JSIS B 364 Violence, Myth and Memory*

HSTAS 466/JSIS A 462 Islam, Mysticism, Politics and Performance*

HSTAS 566/JSIS A 586 Islam, Mysticism, Politics and Performance*

HSTAS 534/JSIS A 534 Indonesian Histories, Oral Traditions, Archives*

HIST 598 Methods of Historical Research (History, Trauma, and Archives)

HIST 468/JSIS B 468 Theatre as a Site of History and Memory

HSTAS 530/JSIS A 580 Field Course in Southeast Asian History

HSTAS 532/JSIS A 582 Seminar in Southeast Asian History


*To Be Taught in 2013-2014


Situated Testimonies: Dread and Enchantment in an Indonesian Literary Archive. University of Hawai'i Press, 2013.

"Passionate Attachments to Area Studies and Asian American Studies: Subjectivity and Diaspora in the Transpacific." Written with Francisco Benitez for Janet Hoskins and Viet Nguyen (Eds.), Transpacific Studies: Interventions and Intersections (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2013).

"The Afterwardsness of Indonesian Studies," in Indonesian Studies 2012 edited by Eric Tagliacozzo (Ithaca: SEAP/Cornell University Press, 2012).

"Modernity and Decadence in Fin-de-Siècle Fiction of the Dutch Empire," Indonesia Journal 90 (Fall 2010).

"Visual Arts, Literature and Performance," in Interweaving Cultures: Islam in Southeast Asia, edited by Elizabeth A. Cole et al. (New York: The Asia Society, 2007)

“Reading Ayu Utami: Notes for a Study of Trauma and the Archive in Indonesia,” Indonesia 83 (2007): 17-40.

Ed. Knowing Southeast Asian Subjects. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007.

“Knowledges that Travel in Southeast Asian Area Studies,” with Carlo Bonura, in Knowing Southeast Asian Subjects, 2007.

“Postcolonial Identities, Feminist Criticism, and Southeast Asian Studies,” in Knowing Southeast Asian Subjects, 2007.

“Visual Arts, Literatures, and Performance,” essay and visuals for Islam in Southeast AsiaTextbook, Asia Society/NEH, 2006.

“Declaration of Universal Humanity,” Liberal Islam Network, translated by Laurie J. Sears, positions 13: I (2005): 1-4.

“The Persistence of Evil and the Impossibility of Truth in Goenawan Mohamad’s Kali” in Beginning to Remember: The Past in the Indonesian Present, ed., Mary Zurbuchen. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2005.

"Islamic Mysticism in Javanese Ramayana Stories," in Mandakranta Bose, ed. Ramayana Stories in Performance in South and Southeast Asia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

"CA Comment on Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Culture," Current Anthropology 43/1 [February 2002]: 146-47.

"Intellectuals, Theosophy, and Failed Narratives of the Nation in Late Colonial Java," in The Post- Colonial Reader, ed. Henry Schwarz. London: Basil Blackwell, 2000.

Shadows of Empire: Colonial Discourse and Javanese Tales. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. Winner of Harry Benda Book Award 1999. Runner-up for Barnard Hewitt Award of the American Society for Theatre Research 1997.
[second printing December 1999]

Editor, Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.

"Fragile Identities: Deconstructing Women and Indonesia," in Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia, ed. Laurie J. Sears.

"Rethinking Indian Influence in Javanese Shadow Theatre Traditions," Comparative Drama 28/1 (Spring 1994).

Editor, Autonomous Histories, Particular Truths: Essays in Honor of John R. W. Small. Madison: Wisconsin Monographs on Southeast Asia, 1993.

"The Contingency of Autonomous History," in Autonomous Histories, Particular Truths, ed. Laurie J. Sears.

Boundaries of the Text: Epic Performances in South and Southeast Asia, eds. Joyce B. Flueckiger and Laurie J. Sears. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan South and Southeast Asian Studies Monographs, 1991.

"Authoritative Voices and the Vietnam Experience," Journal of Urban and Cultural Studies, II/1 (1991), 115-118.

"Introduction," by Laurie J. Sears & Joyce B. Flueckiger. In Boundaries of the Text: Epic Performances in South and Southeast Asia, eds. J. B. Flueckiger and L. J. Sears, 1991.

"Javanese Mahabharata Stories: From Oral Tradition to Written Text," in Boundaries of the Text: Epic Performances in South and Southeast Asia, eds. J. B. Flueckiger and L. J. Sears, 1991.

"Aesthetic Displacement in Javanese Theatre: Three Contemporary Performance Styles," (Fall 1989),The Drama Review.

"Epic Voyages: The Transmission of the Epics from India to Java," in Aesthetic Tradition and Cultural Transmission in Java and Bali, 1-30.

BOMB: Indonesian Short Stories by Putu Wijaya, eds. Ellen Rafferty & Laurie J. Sears. Madison: University of Wisconsin Southeast Asia Monographs, 1988.

Aesthetic Tradition and Cultural Transition In Java and Bali, eds. Stephanie Morgan & Laurie J. Sears. Madison: University of Wisconsin Southeast Asia Monographs, 1984.