My work focuses on the making and movements of ideas about race in the Netherlands East Indies. I study the history of physical anthropology and the ideas anthropologists produced about the Indies from the late nineteenth century to the end of colonialism. European physical anthropologists studied the biological characteristics of large groups of people and their differences and similarities, hoping to learn more about the varieties of mankind and their evolutionary history. My research analyses how conceptions of the different races that made up the Dutch empire were made and unmade by European physical anthropologists through travel and interaction with Southeast Asians. It shows how anthropologists tried to synchronise their need for material and numerical objectivity with their experiences of travelling through Asia that often influenced them differently.

One of the things I work on at the IIAS is the role of the journey to and from the Indies for the making of ideas about Indonesians. Anthropologists often recognized in the Indies ‘types’ of people they had seen before during earlier journeys and these travels changed their judgement of Indonesian people. Anthropologists arriving from the Pacific recognized Polynesian features in the Indonesian archipelago while those travelling to the Indies through the Indian Ocean often stopped in southern India or Sri Lanka and started to stress the ‘Vedda’ element, as it came to be known, in Indonesian populations. In my research I hope to link global travel and the making of ideas about the people of Indonesia.