Peter Carey (historian)

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Peter Carey
A picture in profile of a man with grey hair. He is wearing a purple batik shirt.
Carey at the International Indonesia Forum in 2014
Born (1948-04-30) 30 April 1948 (age 70)
Rangoon, Burma
Nationality British
Occupation Historian
Notable work The Power of Prophecy

Peter (P.B.R.) Carey (born 30 April 1948 in Rangoon) is a British historian and author who specialises in the modern history of Indonesia, Java in particular, and has also written on East Timor (Timor-Leste) and Burma (Myanmar).[1] He was the Laithwaite fellow of Modern History at Trinity College, Oxford, from 1979 to 2008. His major early work concentrated on the history of Diponegoro, the British in Java, 1811–16 and the Java War (1825–30), on which he has published extensively. His major biography of Diponegoro, The Power of Prophecy, appeared in 2007, and a succinct version, Destiny; The Life of Prince Diponegoro of Yogyakarta, 1785–1855, was published in 2014. He has also conducted research in Lisbon and the United Kingdom amongst the exile East Timorese student community for an oral history of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, 1975–99, part of which was published in the Cornell University journal Indonesia (no. 76 [October 2003], pp. 23–67).[1] He is currently writing his memoirs of his 45 years of involvement with Indonesia from 1970 to 2015.

Carey regularly comments on the history and politics of Southeast Asia to the British media.[2] He is currently adjunct professor at the Department of Humanities of the University of Indonesia in Jakarta (since 2013), and was previously Indonesia country director of the Cambodia Trust (2008–2012), a UK disability charity that he co-founded in November 1989 to address the needs of mine victims in Cambodia.


Carey was born to British businessman Thomas Brian Carey and his wife Wendy in Rangoon, Burma — now known as Yangon — on April 30, 1948. At the age of seven he and his family moved to the United Kingdom. While in school there, Carey gained knowledge of the Javanese prince Diponegoro, who had led a war against the Dutch colonial forces in the East Indies in the 1820s. He later recalled that his interest in the prince was sparked by Diponegoro's closeness to the common people, despite his noble background.[3]

In 1969, Carey received a degree in modern history from Trinity College, Oxford, with full honours. The program included a course on the Dutch language, through which he learned more of Prince Diponegoro.[3] He continued on an English Speaking Union scholarship to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, studying there from 1969 to 1970.[4] Between 1971 and 1973 he stayed in Indonesia, completing research into Diponegoro for his doctoral thesis.[3] He graduated in 1975,[4] with a thesis titled "Pangeran Dipanagara and the Making of the Java War: Yogyakarta History, 1785-1825".[5]

Afterwards, he taught at Oxford, first being elected to a Prize Fellowship at Magdalen College in 1974. He served there until 1979, when he became the Laithwaite fellow and tutor in modern history at Trinity College.[4] In 2006, he was made a grand officer in the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator by the government of East Timor.[3][4] Carey retired in 2008 and moved to Indonesia,[3] where he serves as an adjunct professor at the Department of Humanities of the University of Indonesia.

Carey appeared in a film, Prabowo: Sang Patriot (Prabowo: The Patriot), promoting Prabowo Subianto, a candidate in the 2014 Indonesian presidential election.[6] In the film, Prabowo is presented as having an illustrious family with at least two family members having assisted Diponegoro during the Java War, and Carey praises the self-sacrifice of these two ancestors. However, Carey later stated that the footage of his interview on Prabowo's ancestry had been taken from an entirely separate interview on the Java War without his permission. He then requested that Gerindra both remove his scenes, which was done, and withdraw the film, which was not.[7]

This attracted criticism. One critic claimed that Carey was "selling his soul",[8] and another scholar asserted that Carey has a longstanding and close relationship with Prabowo, that Carey had not asked to be removed from the movie and that Carey had been vague and obfuscating and introduced irrelevancies in defending his appearance in the film.[9] Carey responded, maintaining that his words had been taken out of context and pointing out that his original interview had not been done as a piece of political propaganda, but as an historical reflection on the impact of the Java War on Indonesian society. At no point in the original interview was any question asked about Prabowo, whom Carey has never met.[10]

As of 2014, Carey is married to Lina Suriyanti and lives in Tangerang, Banten. Aside from his continued studies into Javanese culture, including a project to preserve manuscripts from the Majapahit era, he owns a wallpaper shop.[3]

Academic career[edit]

An 1835 lithograph of Diponegoro, the focus of many of Carey's academic works

Carey has published much on Javanese culture and history,[3] as well as on the histories of Burma and East Timor.[4] His "fascination", however, is with the 19th-century prince Diponegoro,[3] and by 1983 he was already established as "an authority on the Java War (1825-30)".[5] He has written several books on the prince, including a translation and analysis of the Babad Dipanegara (Diponegoro Chronicles) titled Babad Dipanagara: An Account of the Outbreak of the Java War and a biography of the prince, The Power of Prophecy: Prince Dipanagara and the End of an Old Order in Java, 1785–1855.[3] In a 2014 interview, Carey said that, "In every journey and trial Diponegoro faced, he did not lose his spirit. He still maintained his creativity and his humanity by becoming a writer, a leader, a statesman, a mystique, a clean administrator and performed very good financial management under his ruling."[3]

Babad Dipanagara: An Account of the Outbreak of the Java War, published in 1981, is based in part on Carey's doctoral thesis. It presents a romanised transcription of the Surakarta court version of the Babad Diponegoro, faced with an English-language translation; an Indonesian translation is included after the transcription and English text. The book opens with a 60-page introduction that discusses the manuscript and text, including a review of contemporary literature related to the Java War, and closes with 30 pages of notes, glossaries, bibliography, index and maps. Reviewing for the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Heather Sutherland described the book as "a pleasure to read" and a tribute to its publisher. The English used, she found, was "clear and smooth, if not poetic", and the interspersing of "valuable, scattered information" in the notes led readers to become "impatient" for a social history of Java. She concluded that the book was "exemplary", and its usefulness and origin as a "by-product of a major research effort" became "a tribute to Carey's careful scholarship and historical imagination".[11]

The 2007 publication The Power of Prophecy: Prince Dipanagara and the End of an Old Order in Java, 1785–1855 is an almost thousand-page biography of Diponegoro, including his rarely discussed exile in Manado and Makassar. There is also extensive discussion of related topics, which both presents Carey's analysis and provides sufficient references to let readers draw their own conclusions. Amrit Gomperts, reviewing for the Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, described it as "impressive", an "outstanding and authoritative study on the background of the Java War and Diponegoro's life" written in a style which "will hold the reader's attention until the last page".[12] Gomperts differed only on the discussion of Diponegoro's adopted title Sultan Erucakra, writing that "By taking up ... the epithet of Erucakra (literally, 'arrows and discus'), Diponegoro may have intended to underline the belligerent nature of his proclaimed kingship", and emphasising that the prince had used arrows and a shield as his coat of arms.[13]


  • 1974 The Cultural Ecology of Early Nineteenth Century Java (Singapore: Institute of South East Asian Studies / ISEAS)
  • 1980 The Archive of Yogyakarta. Volume 1. Documents Relating to Politics and Internal Court Affairs (London: British Academy for the Oxford University Press)
  • 1981 Babad Dipanagara. An Account of the Outbreak of the Java War (1825–30) (Kuala Lumpur: Art Printers for the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society)
  • 1986 Maritime Southeast Asian Studies in the United Kingdom: A Survey of Their Post-War Development and Current Resources (Oxford: JASO)
  • 1988 With Colin Wild (ed.), Born in Fire. The Indonesian Struggle for Independence. An Anthology (Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press)
  • 1988? Voyage à Djokja-Karta en 1825. The Outbreak of the Java War As Seen by a Painter (Paris: Association Archipel)
  • 1992 The British in Java, 1811–1816. A Javanese Account (London: Oxford University Press for the British Academy)
  • 1995 With G. Carter Bentley (eds.), East Timor at the Crossroads: The Forging of a Nation (London: Cassell)
  • With Steve Cox, Generations of Resistance: East Timor London: Cassell
  • 1997 Burma: The Challenge of Change in a Divided Society (Basingstoke: MacMillan)
  • 2000 With Mason C. Hoadley (eds.), The Archive of Yogyakarta, vol.2. Documents relating to Economic and Agrarian Affairs (Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy)
  • 2007 The Power of Prophecy: Prince Dipanagara and the End of an Old Order in Java, 1785–1855, Leiden: KITLV Press (second revised edition July 2008) (Indonesian translation: Kuasa Ramalan; Pangeran Diponegoro dan Akhir Tatanan Lama di Jawa, 1785–1855, 3 volumes, Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, 2012)
  • 2014 Destiny: The Life of Prince Diponegoro of Yogyakarta 1785–1855 , Oxford: Peter Lang (Indonesian translation: Takdir; Riwayat Pangeran Diponegoro (1785–1855), Jakarta: BukuKompas)

Documentary Appearances[edit]


  1. ^ a b University of Oxford History Faculty
  2. ^ Opinion | News | The First Post
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Tampubolon, Hans David (26 May 2014). "Peter Carey: Fascination over Diponegoro". The Jakarta Post. Archived from the original on 26 August 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Peter Carey". Project South East Asia. Archived from the original on 26 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Sutherland 1983, p. 394.
  6. ^ GerindraTV. "Sang Patriot: Prabowo Subianto". YouTube. 
  7. ^ Jusuf, Windu W. "The making of a president, on screen". The Jakarta Post. Archived from the original on 26 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  8. ^ "Prabowo the Patriot: Indonesia presidential hopeful produces propaganda flop". Asian Correspondent. 24 April 2014. 
  9. ^ Aspinall, Edward. "A lesson for researchers". 
  10. ^ Mandala, New. "Uses and Abuses of history: Peter Carey responds". 
  11. ^ Sutherland 1983, pp. 394–395.
  12. ^ Gomperts 2008, pp. 312–314.
  13. ^ Gomperts 2008, p. 313.

Works cited[edit]

  • Gomperts, Amrit (2008). "The Power of Prophecy; Prince Dipanagara and the End of an Old Order in Java, 1785-1855. [Verhandelingen 249.] by Peter Carey". Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde. Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies. 164 (2/3): 312–314. JSTOR 27868492.  (subscription required)
  • Sutherland, Heather (1983). "Babad Dipanagara. An Account of the Outbreak of the Java War (1825-1830): The Surakarta Court Version of the Babad Dipanagara with Translations into English and Indonesian Malay by P. B. R. Carey". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Cambridge University Press. 46 (2): 393–395. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00079477. JSTOR 615452.  (subscription required)

External links[edit]