Michael Francis Laffan

Paula Chow Professor of International and Regional Studies; Professor of History; Director of the Center for Collaborative History
Office Phone
124 Dickinson Hall

I study the history of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region. I earned my B.A. in Asian Studies (Arabic) at the Australian National University in Canberra (1995) and got my Ph.D. in Southeast Asian History from the University of Sydney (2001). I came to Princeton in 2005 from a postdoctoral fellowship at the International Institute for Asian Studies in Leiden, the Netherlands. In my first book, Islamic Nationhood and Colonial Indonesia: The Umma Below the Winds (Routledge, 2003), I argued that Islam played a central and largely unacknowledged role in the Indonesian nationalist movement, which historians have tended to associate mainly with a secular, Dutch-educated elite. My second book, The Makings of Indonesian Islam (Princeton, 2011), looks at the results of an engagement between Islamic reformers with intellectual links to Cairo and influential colonial scholars, arguing that they set the parameters for the ways in which Islam has been, and still is, imagined in specific ways in both Southeast Asia and the Academy. My newest book, Under Empire (Columbia, 2022), looks at two centuries of interactions between Muslim subjects of empires and nation states across the Indian Ocean. Starting in Cape Town in the 1780s and finishing in Java under the Japanese occupation of 1942-45, it interrogates notions of Malayness, loyalty, and religious authority at moments of regime change. I have also edited collections of essays (one with Gyan Prakash and Nikhil Menon) on ideas of belonging around the Bay of Bengal and the postcolonial moment in South and Southeast Asia. These came out with Bloomsbury Academic Press in 2016 and 2017.

Current Projects

My current project is an examination of the Cocos Islands and their history of connection with South Africa, empire and the Malay World across the 19th century and into the interwar era.

Teaching Interests

I teach survey courses and graduate classes on the history and historiography of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean with special reference to its Malay and Arabic speaking communities.

Selected Articles

“The Forgotten Jihad under Japan: Muslim Reformism and the Promise of Indonesian Independence,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 64, nos.1-2 (2021): 125-61

"From Javanese Court to African Grave: How Noriman became Tuan Skapie, 1717-1806," Journal of Indian Ocean World History, 1 (2017).

Area of Interest
Colonialism & Post Colonialism
Home Department & Other Affiliations
17th & 18th Centuries
19th Century
20th Century
Middle East and North Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa