Indonesia, Melayunesia (2/5)

This is second in a series of five articles. Access the firstthird, fourth and fifth here. 

As a self-financed scholarly venture from 1847 – 1859, the contents found within The Journal of the Indian Archipelago spans geography and natural history, observations of local life and culture, philology and history, commerce and labour. In many ways the journal laid the foundations for a European knowledge convention of producing sustained academic inquiry in the British Malaya. An intellectual and philosophical movement in 18th century Europe known as the Enlightenment was the impetus. The period was defined by privileging of reason as the primary source of knowledge – methods were developed to obtain information that can verify the truth or falsity of a claim.

1856. Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia New Series 1:2.
1856. Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia New Series 1:2.

In the emerging field of science, this type of information was regarded as empirical evidence. Whether obtained through observation or experimentation, each study played a part in building up this vast reservoir of information. In the prospectus, Logan explains by what means knowledge should be accrued, ‘Everything physical and moral should be considered descriptively so as to fully express its individual intrinsic existence, and quantitatively, so as to ascertain its relation to the whole, that is, its importance and influence in the general system of things of which it forms an integral part.’

More significantly, a central undertaking of the journal is dedicated to the report on knowledge, principally publishing translations of earlier Dutch and Spanish writings on the region into the English language. To create a consolidated knowledge network, one is required to be familiar with existing scholarship as well as locate one’s research endeavor in conversation with one’s scholarly peers. In this sense, Logan’s journal acted as a bridge that brought greater awareness to past knowledge of the Malay Archipelago in the Dutch and Spanish languages, while also serving as a conduit for contemporary Dutch and British scholarly exchanges.

Finally, a consolidated knowledge network could be sustainable because of two factors. Firstly, it operated on the principles of the collective. Institutions that were described as ‘public’ were established in response to a new sense of collective ownership resulting from a newly created political system called the nation-state. Institutions like the museum, the government bureaucracy, the library, the school and the university facilitated access and retrieval of knowledge that could then be selectively deployed by artists and politicians to define and contest new collective values for the citizens of the nation-state. The knowledge infrastructure of our current society today is not so different.

The encyclopedic nature of the journal’s coverage on both the natural world and human life in the Malay Archipelago was highlighted as a chief source of inspiration that the Society hoped to emulate in the publishing of its own journal.

Establishing a spiritual link between the Society and Logan’s Journal was therefore crucial. To do so, Hose’s inaugural address took care to note that the Society also inherited the Journal of the Indian Archipelago’s intellectual mandate through bloodline. Here he mentioned that JR Logan’s son, Mr. Daniel Logan, who did not attend the inaugural address, was elected to the office of Vice-President of the Society in Penang at an earlier founding meeting.

At the same time, there was a crucial difference between how Logan and the Society saw the region. Logan’s scholarly ambition was to produce a map of an invisible world, covering not just the Malay Archipelago but also a reach that stretches westward to Madagascar and eastward to the Polynesian islands. This world was linked together by a cognate linguistic and cultural denominator that stretches across the Indo-Pacific. The centre of this universe was the litter of islands he christened ‘Indonesia’.

An Indonesian tourist ziarah-ing the keramat of James Richardson Logan at the Protestant Cemetery in Northam Road/ Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah.

From 1850, numerous terms were advanced by various scholars to describe the Malay Archipelago as a culture and geographical region for which no name was deemed suitable or satisfactory. Logan favoured the term ‘Indonesia’ as shorthand for the Indian Archipelago, to emphasise the geographic qualities of an area made up of many islands that would be a significant home for a larger Malayo-Polynesian cultural and linguistic community that spans the Indo-Pacific region.

This is to say, Logan studied language and culture under a broader scientific interest in Natural History, therefore he was more interested in characterizing the geography of the land more than attributing the land to a people. Other scholars who were more strongly inclined towards theories of race preferred instead to underline the ‘Malayan/Malaysian/Melayunesian’ cultural and linguistic attributes as the primary identifier for the archipelagic region.

While the Society saw itself as the inheritor of Logan’s spirit of scholarly inquiry, it adopted the cultural marker of Malayan rather than Indonesian to circumscribe the region of study. The choice reflected a different set of contingencies that might clarify why the Map of the Malay Peninsula was of importance to the inaugural address. For the election of an ethnic marker over a geographic one, connected the enterprise of the Society to an equally ambitious European scholar who undertook the first systematic, comprehensive but also ultimately deterministic study of the Malay language, William Marsden.

Interested in exploring the topic further? Here are some recommended sources, books and articles:


1878. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, July. Inaugural issue. Available online at:

James R. Logan. 1847. Prospectus of the journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia. [s.n.] Available online at:

An incomplete set of the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia (1847-58) can be found under the ‘Journals’ folder:

Remaining volumes of the journals can be found on:

Additional readings

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Bonny Tan. 2009. ‘James Richardson Logan’ Singapore Infopedia. Available online at: [Accessed 1 September 2019]

J. Turnbull Thomson. 1881. ‘A Sketch of the Career of the Late James Richardson Logan, of Penang and Singapore’ Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 7 June, 75-81.

Matthew Schauer. 2012. Custodians Of Malay Heritage: Anthropology, Education and Imperialism in British Malaya and the Netherlands Indies 1890-1939. PhD Thesis. University of Pennsylvania.

For clarification on the use of Indonesia and Melayu-nesia, see:

Russel Jones. 1973. ‘Earl, Logan, and “Indonesia”’ Archipel 6, 93-118. [Accessed 1 September 2019]