Stamford Raffles, James Brooke, John Crawfurd and Anna Leonowens
were some of those who came from Europe or the United States to
Southeast Asia in the nineteenth century — and then wrote about what
Their writings deserve to be read now for what they truly were: Not objective accounts of a Southeast Asia frozen in imperial time but rather as culturally myopic and perspectivist works that betray the subject-positions of the authors themselves. Reading them would allow us to write the history of the East-West encounter through critical lenses that demonstrate the workings of power-knowledge in the elaborate war-economy of racialised colonial-capitalism.
Many of the tropes used by these colonial-era scholars and travellers, such as the indolence or savagery of the native population, are still very much in use today — which means we still live in the long shadow of the 19th century.