Conrad and Coal (Wednesday, 18 September 2019)

Speaker: Dr Douglas Kammen, Associate Professor, Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore

Date : Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Time : 3.00pm

Venue : AS8 #06-46, Singapore 119260


Joseph Conrad was born to Polish parents in the Ukraine, spent a twenty-year career as a sailor in the French, British, Swedish and even Arab-Singaporean merchant marine, and eventually became a naturalized British citizen. When he retired from the sea, Conrad settled in Kent to write fiction in English, a language he only learned in his 20s. Conrad’s novels and short-stories spanned the globe – including the Malay world and the South China Sea, England, the Congo, France and Spain, Latin America, and for good measure his native eastern Europe. Of his five “Borneo” novels, three form a chronologically inverted series set in Tanjung Redeb, in present-day East Kalimantan, and the protagonist of a fourth novel winds up there as well.

This talk first examines why Conrad and the ship on which he served as first mate were in the backwater settlement of Tanjung Redeb in 1887, and then uses Conrad as a point of departure from which to consider the long arm of global capital in the same location more than a century later.


Douglas Kammen taught at the University of Canterbury (NZ), Hasanuddin University (Indonesia), and the National University of Timor Lorosae (Timor-Leste) before joining the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the NUS in 2007. His most recent books are Three Centuries of Conflict in East Timor (Rutgers University Press, 2015), Independent Timor-Leste: Between Coercion and Consent (Cambridge University Press, 2019) and Cina Timor: Baba, Hakka and Cantonese in the Making of Timor-Leste (Yale Council on Southeast Asia Studies, 2019).