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Open Access The Indies and the world: State building, promise, and decay at a transnational moment, 1910

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The Indies and the world: State building, promise, and decay at a transnational moment, 1910

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Scholars such as Ray Huang in his ground-breaking book 1587, a year of no significance have shown how examining a single year in some detail can often say interesting and unexpected things about longer-term trends of a particular time and place. Huang did this to look at the patterns of China in the late Ming period, and he presaged not only the extraordinary cultural florescence that was beginning at the time, but also the seeds of Ming decay which would give way (very violently, in fact) to the imposition of Qing rule a few decades later. A similar exercise might be profitably attempted for the Dutch East Indies, and to some extent the Malay world surrounding it, in the early part of the twentieth century. Soon after the turn of the century the Indies was a thriving place: the Dutch appeared to be at or near the height of their rule, and serious anti-colonial sentiment in the form of organized actions, movements or parties had yet to appear. Yet even at this apex of colonial power, seeds were being sewn just as in Ming China for cataclysms that were just over the horizon. The Dutch East Indies state in 1910 was indeed flourishing in a number of ways, several of which are examined in this essay. The future looked favourable for continued conquest and control, and in the eyes of the Dutch themselves, this validated their authority and gave them the moral right to rule. Many of these same Dutchmen would have been aghast to see the changes that were to come a mere three decades later, when all that had been built by their forefathers in the preceding three centuries came tumbling down in a matter of months.The present essay tries to freeze-frame this moment around 1910

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