HOMSEA 4 Report

Fourth Conference on the History of Medicine in Southeast Asia

Held in association with the 22nd Conference of the International Association of Historians of Asia, Solo, July 2-6, 2012.

Panel indigenous medicine
A panel on traditional medicine. With Nathan Porath, Nawiyanto, Celine Coderey, and Jennifer Nourse

Six years ago, in January 2006, a small group of scholars interested in the history of medicine in Southeast Asia met in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for the first conference on the History of Medicine in Southeast Asia (HOMSEA). Conferences followed in Penang, Malaysia, and Singapore, the latter in association with the bi-annual meeting of IAHA (the International Association of Historians of Asia). The countries that make up Southeast Asia today have been part of several different colonial empires (French, English, and Dutch) while Thailand has remained independent. All these countries have had (and many still have) strong traditions of indigenous medicine. The history of medicine in Southeast Asia therefore has a very interesting variety of interactions between different colonial styles and different local medical traditions. The aim of HOMSEA was for scholars interested in these different countries to meet and share their research.

The 2012 meeting of HOMSEA was organized in association with PERSEKIN (Perhimpunan Sejarah Kedokteran Indonesia; Indonesian Association of the History of Medicine), which had already been represented by several participants at the Singapore meeting. Between 40 and 50 people were in attendance at every session. Harold Cook (Brown University) and Kartono Mohamad (president of PERSEKIN and former president of IDI: the Indonesian Medical Association), opened the meeting while two members of PERSEKIN’s executive had active roles at the meeting. Firman Lubis gave a keynote address in which he shared his experiences as medical student and newly graduated physician in Indonesia during the 1950s. Rushdy Husein presented several health movies that were produced in the Dutch East Indies providing an unusual insight in health care practices at the time. Not surprisingly, several papers on the history of medicine in the Dutch East Indies and Indonesia were presented at this meeting. Peter Boomgaard of the KITLV (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) gave the second keynote address, on the history of cholera in the Dutch East Indies. There was a panel on the history of medical education in the Dutch East Indies with an excellent commentary by John Harley Warner (Yale University); other papers addressed the production of quinine, European physicians, and midwives there.

Dressed-up horses to bring us to the Sunan’s kraton

Of particular interest were two papers on the history of leprosy in the Dutch East Indies and Surinam, a colony of the Netherlands in South America. These two papers, by Frank Huisman (University of Utrecht) and Leo van Bergen (KITLV), introduced a large three-year research project on this topic to an international audience. Byron Good and Mary Delvecchio-Good (Harvard University) had organized a panel on the history of psychiatry, inviting three leading senior Indonesian psychiatrists (Irmansyah, Rusdi Maslim, and Pandu Setiawan). After the HOMSEA dinner, the path-breaking book by Liesbeth Hesselink on the history of medical education in the Dutch East Indies, Healers on the Colonial Market, was launched. Papers at the meeting covered the history of medicine in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Burma, and Laos. The delegation from the Philippines was unusually strong and energetic: they presented five papers on various aspects of the history of medicine there.

The program committee of HOMSEA consisted of Warwick Anderson (University of Sydney), Peter Boomgaard (KITLV), Harold Cook (Brown University), Rhety Chhem (Ulm University), Laurence Monnais (Université de Montreal) and Hans Pols (University of Sydney). Financial support (in the form of scholarships to enable young scholars to attend the meeting) was provided by the KITLV, Leiden; and the Université de Montreal. The location arrangement committee consisted of the members of the executive of PERSEKIN with great assistance from the organizing committee of IAHA.

Hans Pols

Dance performance
Dinner and Javanse dance at the kraton