Nicholas Tarling

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Nicholas Tarling (born 1931) is a historian, academic, and author. He specialises in Southeast Asian history, and has written on eighteenth and nineteenth century Malaysia; North Borneo; Philippines; Laos, especially foreign involvement in these countries.


Early life[edit]

Nicholas Tarling was born[where?] in 1931 and obtained his secondary education at St. Albans School. As an undergraduate at Christ's College, Cambridge, he was supervised- by among others- the late Sir John H. Plumb. He also earned his PhD at Cambridge, supervised by Dr. Victor Purcell.


In 1957 he took up a teaching post at the University of Queensland in Gordon Greenwood's Department of History and Political Science. There, he taught courses in both European and Asian history. During those years he visited Southeast Asia and the US, and published three books: a revised version of his thesis; Anglo-Dutch Relations in the Malay World; Piracy and Politics in the Malay World.[1]

In 1965 Tarling was appointed associate professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and in 1968 he became a full professor, still as a European and Asian history teacher. He also held posts as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Chairman of the Deans Committee, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. He also served on a number of inter-university and government committees.[2]

He was the founder and president of the New Zealand Asian Studies Society (NZASIA)[3] and also had two terms as President of the Association of University Teachers of New Zealand. His interest in the arts led to his appointment to Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council,[4] to the chairmanship of the Symphonia of Auckland, and to a directorship of Opera New Zealand. He was a busy amateur actor and served for many years as University Orator.[5]

He retired in 1996 and since he has been a Fellow of the New Zealand Asia Institute and served for a while as Director of the Institute and later of the International Office. He was also a visiting Professor at UBD[clarification needed] and honorary professor at University of Hull.

He was awarded the Cambridge Litt.D. in 1974 and given an honorary Litt.D. by the University of Auckland in 1996, when he was also made Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM).


He has published some 45 books and edited fifteen. Those in Asian history include Britain, the Brookes and Brunei (1971), Sulu and Sabah (1978),[6] The Burthen, The Risk and the Glory (1982), and The Fourth Anglo-Burman War (1987).

He also edited The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia.[7] In retirement he has completed a trilogy on British policy in Southeast Asia[8] during the Pacific War, the Cold War[9] and the Korean War, and also published a book on the Japanese interregnum, A Sudden Rampage.[10] A second trilogy, on imperialism, nationalism[11] and regionalism in Southeast Asia, is almost complete. He has also published books on university policy,[2] including one on overseas students,[3] and on opera.

Selected publications[edit]

Current projects[edit]

He has an upcoming book on Orientalism and The Operatic World, date due: June 2015


  1. ^ Swift, Michael; Tarling, Nicholas (1964). "Piracy and Politics in the Malay World". The Australian Quarterly. Australian Institute of Political Science. 36 (2): 109–111. doi:10.2307/20633968. 
  2. ^ a b Barton, Chris (12 October 2007). "Crisis of Identity? The Mission and Management of Universities in New Zealand". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  3. ^ a b "Southeast Asia, Opera and International Students Mobility". New Zealand Asia Institute newsletter. February 2004. Archived from the original on 17 October 2008. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  4. ^ Simpson, Adrienne (1996). Opera's farthest frontier: a history of professional opera in New Zealand. Reed. p. 222. ISBN 978-0-7900-0511-9. 
  5. ^ Tarling, Nicholas (2007). Historians and their discipline: the call of Southeast Asian history. Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. p. 133. ISBN 978-967-9948-39-4. 
  6. ^ "The contribution of Dr. D. K. Bassett to Brunei historiography.". Borneo Research Bulletin. 1 January 2006. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  7. ^ "The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia.(Review)". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 1 September 2000. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  8. ^ "A sudden rampage: the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia, 1941–1945.(Book Review)". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 1 June 2003. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  9. ^ "Britain, Southeast Asia and the Onset of the Cold War, 1945–1950.(Review)". New Zealand International Review. 1 May 1999. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  10. ^ "A Sudden Rampage: The Japanese Occupation of Southeast Asia, 1941–1945.(Book Review)". The Historian. 22 June 2003. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  11. ^ "Nations and States in Southeast Asia.(Book Review)". The Historian. 22 June 2000. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Blussé, Leonard (26 September 2014). "A Gentle Man of Many Talents: An Interview with Nicholas Tarling". Itinerario. 38 (2): 7–12. doi:10.1017/S016511531400031X.