Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

Prof. Dr. Vincent Houben


30th June 2022. Transregional Studies and the history of scale - a personal journey

This lecture was the kick-off for the series of lectures in the framework of “Berliner Transregionale Gespräche / Transregional studies day” at the institute of Asian and African Studies (IAAW), Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. Prof. Houben narrated during the lecture about the many hurdles he encountered during his academic career. He The session was moderated by Prof. Dr. Hennig Klöter. Prof. Dr. Manja Stephan- Emmrich and Prof. Cluadia Derichs hosted the event. Prof. Stephan-Emmrich commented that the contribution of Prof. Houben to Transregional area studies has shaped the Institute for Asian and African studies. It reoriented the anthropological tradition in the department. Prof. Derichs discussed that Prof. Houben´s critical take on knowledge production has been inspirational and a motivation for starting projects like Delink-Relink.

Prof. Houben presented an autobiographical account of his academic career. Looking forward he shared that the future lies in learning languages and collaborating with local institutions. The larger frame of social sciences also needs a re-evaluation as the practices of individual research, intellectual property can turn us into lonely fighters while there is a need for collaboration with local actors and working in research groups instead. He also highlighted the efforts made for keeping the Area studies tradition alive by realigning it to the demands and needs of the day. The lecture was attended by Prof. Houben’s colleagues, former and current students and family members. The lecture was followed by a reception for the attendees.


Vincent Houben 3.jpg
His Biography taken from IAAW website

"After my secondary education in the city of Haarlem (the Netherlands), I moved to the old university town of Leiden to take up the study of history. This was a time in which non-western history was ‘rediscovered’ after a period of negligence since the decolonization of Indonesia. In my personal environment I got to know several people with an Indonesian background, which also raised my curiosity. Therefore, during my postgraduate studies, I specialized in Indonesian history and took modern Indonesian as well as Javanese as minors.

The contact with historians in the Leiden Institute for the History of European Expansion and Reaction on the one hand and with experts of Indonesian languages and cultures on the other helped me combine two hitherto separate academic worlds. Because of my rare combination of subjects, I obtained a Ph.D.-scholarship, which in 1987 led to the submission of a dissertation on Javanese-Dutch contact history at the Principalities of Surakarta and Yogyakarta in the middle of the nineteenth century. In this study I combined colonial sources with Javanese materials, in a manner that has been done before by internationally renowned scholars like Merle Ricklefs and Peter Carey.

Between 1986 and 1997 I was a lecturer for history at the Department of Southeast Asian Languages and Cultures of Leiden University. During these years I taught many students and among them were a substantial number from families with a migration background. In the 1980s and 1990s I undertook regular trips to Southeast Asia, to Indonesia and Vietnam in particular. In 1993 I was guest lecturer at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, on the basis of a staff exchange with Robert Cribb, who is now a professor at the Australian National University.

In 1997 I obtained the chair of Southeast Asian Studies at Passau University, as the successor of Bernhard Dahm. Moving to this new environment not only involved teaching in German but also broadening my expertise beyond Indonesia and history. During these years I took an increasing interest in intra-regional comparison as a method of making Southeast Asian Studies work. Since 2001, I have been working at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin as a professor of Southeast Asian history and society. As deputy director and, previously, longtime director of the Institute of Asian and African Studies I am involved in administrative matters, especially regarding the question of how area studies can be made more relevant for the future. Contacts to partner institutions in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have been intensified.

Over the years I have published several books and many articles on different aspects of Southeast Asia and its history. Main themes are colonial history, economic history, politics of postcolonial memory and theories of non-western studies."