John Roosa

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

Social Organization and Political Systems
Human Rights and Liberties, Collective Rights
Foreign Affairs
History of Indonesia

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Master's students
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Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2020)
Racial and economic influences in the Malay-language press coverage of the anti-Chinese riot in 1918 Kudus, Java (2020)

An examination of the Malay-language press coverage in the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia) following the Kudus riot of October 31, 1918. This riot, an attack by indigenous (bumiputra) townspeople against the long-established Chinese population following a brawl on October 30, caused half of the Chinese population to flee the town and led to mass arrests of indigenous townspeople and political leaders by the Dutch authorities. Previous work on the Kudus riot has explained it as the result of economic competition between Chinese and indigenous businesses. Less attention has been given to how the riot was interpreted by the wider racial communities of the Dutch East Indies in the aftermath. This thesis compares a large body of the Kudus riot coverage in Malay newspapers in the weeks after the riot and examines how the newspapers' editorial lines shifted in November 1918, from an initially cautious phase where the Malay papers simply reprinted Dutch content, to a phase where the papers sought out credible correspondents or spokespeople from their own racial group, to a final phase of aggressive criticism of other editors and their interpretations of the riot and arrests. The four main papers being examined represent distinct positions on the Chinese and indigenous sides: Sin Po (nationalist Chinese), Djawa Tengah (moderate Chinese), Neratja (moderate indigenous), and Sinar Hindia (nationalist indigenous). After comparing the coverage in those papers, the thesis examines cases of outsider figures who worked for newspapers owned by other racial groups as well as the efforts by some editors and community officials to establish and promote Chinese-indigenous “friendship meetings” as a way to prevent future outbreaks. The thesis establishes some of the limits of expression in the newspapers of the time due not only to the poor relationships between racial groups and the threat of arrest under Dutch censorship laws, but also seeks out examples of cosmopolitan ideas and awareness of a common colonized status shared by both Chinese and indigenous.

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A Colonial Haunting: Prostitution and the Politics of Sex Trafficking in British India, 1917-1939 (2012)

Following the murder of a Bombay prostitute in 1917, the Government of India launched a series of investigations and commissions of inquiry in order to determine the scope of prostitution and extent of sex trafficking across British India. Between 1917 and 1939, these colonial projects produced a vast archive of ethnographic and statistical information about those women whose lives were intricately tied to brothels in the Indian subcontinent. In this paper, I examine the politics behind these projects of knowledge production and the colonial desire to make these women “known.” By situating this colonial history within the international climate of the interwar period – a time when the legitimacy of the British Empire was increasingly challenged by Indian nationalists and subject to scrutiny by the League of Nations – this study argues that colonial administrators appropriated the highly publicized death of an Indian prostitute to elicit emotions of shock and pity and in turn, preserve the ideological legitimacy of “enlightened” British rule by fashioning themselves as “modernizers of indigenous patriarchy” in India. The death of the prostitute, much like the controversy around sati and child marriage in the nineteenth century, became a metonym for the social ills of India which justified colonial intervention as a form of benevolent paternalism. However, these knowledge production projects rarely materialized into tangible social reforms for the women at question. They were, instead, a public relations exercise meant to bolster the international image of British rule India and create an illusion of the success of the colonial technologies of surveillance. Sustaining commonsense assumptions about colonial prostitutes required an ongoing effort to produce statistics, social “facts,” and tropes about them. By scrutinizing these colonial reports and the context of their production, this study attempts to illuminate both the illogical and unpredictable nature of state commissions of inquiry and the ulterior motives of imperial legitimacy behind seemingly benevolent colonial social reforms for Indian women.

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Current Students & Alumni

This is a small sample of students and/or alumni that have been supervised by this researcher. It is not meant as a comprehensive list.

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