2023 Global Research Trips

In 2023, graduate students from across Global Studies master's programs conducted fieldwork through the Global Perspectives Grant, which is made possible through the generous support of Mr. Dapeng Zhu and Ms. Xiao Liu. Read a few highlights about their experiences abroad below. 

Archival Research on Colonial Malay

Samuel Loh

East Asian Studies

My M.A. thesis explores the interrelation between race, capitalism, and imperialism from the vantage point of late nineteenth century colonial Malaya, one of the most important and earliest sites of extensive Anglo-Chinese contact. Despite recent trends in empire studies, including the growing popularity of those conceptual models and frameworks associated with what some scholars have termed the ‘new imperial history’, Malaya has yet to receive a level of scholarly attention comparable to other empirical cases. A key goal of my thesis is to show how the application of such theoretical approaches to Malaya not only yields a new understanding of its colonial experience, but also makes a broader contribution to the historiography of empire in general.

Thanks to the Global Perspectives Award, I was able to conduct first-hand research at the UK National Archives and the British Library Archives in London. I studied a range of primary sources, such as declassified government correspondences, anthropological reports, legislative minutes, photographs, and personal journals. Most of these came from the records of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the now-defunct Colonial Office and British India Office, and included original material dating back the early nineteenth century. The sources illustrated a fascinating portrait of how British colonial administrators understood and responded to the sizeable and influential overseas Chinese presence within the Malayan colony, and vice versa. Perhaps the most interesting set of sources I examined were the microfilmed manuscripts from the Stamford Raffles collection.

Archival research is always exciting because you never know what to expect—every box could contain new and intriguing insights, or none at all. I remember one day where hours of trawling through documents came up with relatively few leads, and another where I made unanticipated discoveries in folders I had initially thought were only of cursory relevance. Being there in person and having direct access to the material and their helpful custodians is fundamentally different from performing key word searches via online databases miles away; not to mention, the majority of primary sources, even in archives as established as the ones I visited this spring, still remain undigitized. And there really is nothing quite like being able to handle documents hundreds of years old, each of which is itself a unique window into a past world and human experiences so unimaginably divergent from our own. As someone interested in continuing my studies in history, I am very grateful to Stanford Global Studies for the opportunity to further sharpen my research skills and engage so closely with such fascinating material.