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H-ASIA May 13, 2013 Professor William Roff (1929-2013) ********************************************************************** Ed. note: Following our first posting from Paul Kratoska regarding the passing of Professor William Roff on May 3 at his home in Scotland, Barbara Metcalf suggested an approach to Professor Michael Laffan of Princeton University seeking an further obituary posting for H-ASIA. I am deeply indebted for Michael taking time to prepare the present post and for updating Bill Roff's bibliography. AND, may I urge you to share with anyone you know who talks of the current neo-liberal heresy that sees higher education as a 'private good' for which the student should pay the cost. New Zealand's investment probably did nothing for their national "bottom line", but the world gained a treasure. FFC -------------------------------------------------------------------- From: Michael F. Laffan <mlaffan@Princeton.EDU> William R. Roff May 3 saw the passing of the noted Southeast Asianist, William R. Roff, known to so many friends at home and abroad as Bill. Born in Scotland in 1929, he was Professor of History Emeritus at Columbia. While best known for his life-long engagement with the study of Islam, it was Buddhist Burma on the cusp of independence that first awoke Roff to the study of Southeast Asia. After being at sea for six years, of which three were spent with the British & Burmese Steam Navigation Company, Roff took advantage of New Zealand's offer for anyone over the age of 21 to enrol in tertiary education. Having availed himself of a job as a journalist with the national broadcasting service, in 1952 he commenced part-time studies at Victoria College, Wellington, where he would earn his Bachelor's and Master's degrees. It was there too that he first became interested in the intersections of history and anthropology, and, through the influence of the Singaporean Emily Sadka, in the Malay Peninsula. Like Sadka, by March of 1959 he found himself in Canberra, where the Australian National University was still taking shape and the defining Lake Burley Griffin as yet unfilled. The roving Scot was hardly taken with his new environs, it must be said. Still, there was intellectual nourishment to be had, most especially in the history, languages and traditions of Southeast Asian Islam under A.H. Johns and Soepomo, and lasting friendships with South Asia scholars like Jit and Patricia Uberoi. After what must have seemed like a lightning fast period of preparation, in October 1959 the determined doctoral candidate headed to Kelang, Selangor, for fieldwork and the defining phase of his personal education. This was at the hands of his "burly" family host, Tuan Haji Abdul Karim. As Roff later recalled, it was there that he gained real appreciation for the traditional methods of Islamic education that schooled him in the script he would use for his exhaustive primary source research. And it was in Selangor too that he had frequent contacts with two Egyptian teachers in residence at the newly founded Muslim College. One was the Azhar-trained Mohammad Zaki Badawi (1922-2006), who had completed a dissertation of his own at the University of London about modern Muslim thought. Naturally this study had included strong attention to the activities of Muhammad Abduh who would prove so influential on Malay Muslims, particularly those engaged with the pioneering journal al-Imam and its inheritors, with which Roff was most engaged. Given such connections, it is scarcely surprising that Roff's researches spanned the waters he had once sailed himself, with his first major article on Singapore and a major book derived from an already mature thesis submitted in 1965. His Origins of Malay Nationalism, published by Yale in 1967, remains a landmark contribution to the field. In his editorial preface, Roff's mentor and predecessor in New Zealand, Harry J. Benda (1919-71), already declared it to be a "pioneering work in Malay history" in which, rather than arguing for the merits of Asia-centric history, the author had simply "gone and written it-and written it well." Roff marshalled an effective narrative that placed the Malays both in a community that straddled the South China Sea and in an expanding world whose capitals included Cairo, Islamabad and Jakarta. His 1970 article on the first Malay and Indonesian student associations formed in Egypt in the 1920s, published in Cornell's flagship journal Indonesia, demonstrated just how important it was to look for Southeast Asians beyond a region whose very existence as a scholarly field was still being actively debated. Like others who would be so instrumental in defining the field (such as Tony Reid) by the time of publication Roff had gained a post teaching in the region. Between 1965 and 1969 he was active at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, where he was drawn once more to consider the traditionalist end of the global Islamic spectrum by focussing on the state of Kelantan, the most ethnically Malay of Malaysia's states. By the end of the 1960s, however, America beckoned, and Roff was able - with the advice and support of Harry Benda - to obtain a tenured position at Columbia University in 1969, where he would continue to open his lens on the world of Islam. He became a full professor in 1973 and was named a Guggenheim Fellow that same year, later supervising the work of such scholars as Mary McDonnell, Sumit Mandal, Azumardi Azra, Muhammed Kemal Hassan and the South Asianist Usha Sanyal, who found a warm welcome in his and his wife Sue's home on Claremont Avenue. It was from his base at Columbia, too, that Roff was instrumental in a series of important - typically collaborative - endeavours that would have a lasting impact in and beyond Southeast Asian studies, including the successful and enduring edited volume, In Search of Southeast Asia as well as a valuable collection of essays on Kelantan. His role in offering a comparative perspective to a project of the SSRC/ACLS Joint Committee on South Asia led to lifelong friendships with Barbara Metcalf, and, building on that experience, to a central role with David Szanton in setting up an SSRC/ACLS joint committee on the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies in 1985. That committee launched several collaborative projects, one of which led to his edited volume, Islam and the Political Economy of Meaning, as well as pioneering international dissertation workshops, of which one memorable one took place under his organization in Kelantan. While always interested in global comparisons, his later articles gave further testament to his abiding interest in questions of Malay journalism, pan-Islamic itineraries, and the use of social science in comprehending religious world views. Whether his examinations were directed to questions of colonial sanitation, the perils of dog saliva, or a sensational murder case in Singapore, Roff's prose was always controlled and clear, and with a whiff of humour that often enlivened matters in unexpected places. In short he was a marvellous communicator of insights gleaned from the field and theory alike, and ever ready to engage in further conversation. Still, the academy was only one home for Bill. And in 1991, following his retirement from Columbia, he and Sue moved to his native Scotland and his beloved town of Cellardyke, Fife. From a restored fisherman's cottage at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, he would maintain an active hand in mentoring colleagues, both at the University of Edinburgh, where he was Honorary Fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, and across the ether in America, Europe, Asia and Australasia, if in ever increasing font sizes. At a personal level I should say that, from a now more established Canberra (and as a junior member of what was by then a fully-fledged field), I was but one of many who enjoyed Bill's help and friendship. Having read his dissertation at the ANU as an honours student, it was a great thrill to finally meet him in the Netherlands, and then to stay with him in October of 2004. Whether chatting in Cellardyke, or else in a certain clubhouse up the road with his back turned squarely on the hallowed last hole (he had no time at all for golf), Bill spoke with great warmth about his colleagues and former students, the emerging field of Hadrami diaspora studies and the study of law through the insights of anthropology. It was here too, that I got a better taste of his wit and a sense of his wonderful home with Sue and his abiding pride both in her achievements and those of their daughters, Sarah, of Portland, Oregon, and Emily, of Glasgow. In recent years, Bill set out to show Emily the great cities of the Muslim world, including Kuala Lumpur (with they visited with Sue to celebrate a 50 year association), as well as Delhi, Cairo, and Istanbul. In 2009, the National University of Singapore published a set of his major essays, many of which read as freshly as when they were first published. Indeed his life of publication and travel seemed to be running apace - with the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society featuring three of his reflections only last year. Yet the travels had to stop in the end, and the man who had so often been on hand as national histories unfolded, and who was so instrumental as the very field of Southeast Asian studies was made, has left us, and left us with an enduring set of invaluable insights written, and written well, not to mention with lasting memories of a cherished mentor and friend. Michael Laffan, with advice from Sue Roff, Barbara Metcalf and Usha Sanyal Select Bibliography of Works by William R. Roff Guide to Malay periodicals 1876-1941, with details of known holdings in Malaya (Dept. of History, University of Malaya: Eastern Universities Press, 1961) "The Malayo-Muslim World of Singapore at the Close of the Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Asian Studies 24.1 (November 1964): 75-90 The Origins of Malay Nationalism (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1967) "The Persatuan Melayu Selangor: An Early Malay Political Association," Journal of Southeast Asian History 9.1 (March 1968): 117-46 "Indonesian and Malay Students in Cairo in the 1920s," Indonesia 9 (April 1970): 73-87 "Autobiography & Biography in Malay Historical Studies," Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Occasional Paper no. 13, 1972 In Search of Southeast Asia: A Modern History. David J. Steinberg et.al (eds.) (New York: Praeger, 1971) Bibliography of Malay and Arabic Periodicals Published in the Straits Settlements and Peninsular Malay states 1876-1941: With an Annotated Union List of Holdings in Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom (Oxford University Press, 1972) "The Origins and Early Years of the Majlis Agama Kelantan," in: Kelantan: Religion, Society and Politics in a Malay State, William R. Roff (ed.), (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1974), 101-52 "The Mystery of the first Malay Novel (And Who Was Rokambul?)," Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 130.4 (1974): 450-64 "The Conduct of the Hajj from Malaya, and the First Malay Pilgrimage Officer," In: Seri Terbitan tak berkala: Occasional Papers (Kuala Lumpur: Institute of Malay Langiage and Literature, National University of Malaya 1 (1975), 81-112. The Wandering Thoughts of a Dying Man: The Life and Times of Haji Abdul Majid bin Zainuddin. William R. Roff (intro and ed.), (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1978 Ahmad Boestamam, Carving the Path to the Summit, William R. Roff (intro and ed.), (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1979) "Sanitation and Security: The Imperial Powers and the Nineteenth Century Hajj," Arabian Studies VI (1982): 143-60 "Whence Cometh the Law? Dog Saliva in Kelantan, 1937," Comparative Studies in Society and History 25.2 (April 1983): 323-38 Kerjasama dan koperasi di Semenanjung, 1910-1941: Petikan dari bahan-bahan terbitan sezaman (Penerbit Universiti Malaya, 1984) "Islam Obscured? Some Reflections on Studies of Islam and Society in Southeast Asia," Archipel 29 (1985): 7-34 "Islamic Movements: One or Many? In: Islam and the Political Economy of Meaning: Comparative Studies of Muslim Discourse. William R. Roff (ed.), (University of California Press and Croom Helm, 1987), 30-51 "An Argument About How to Argue," in: Islamic Legal Interpretation: Muftis and their Fatwas, Muhammad Khalid Masud et.al. (eds.), (Harvard University Press, 1996), 223-39 "Patterns of Islamisation in Malaysia, 1890s-1990s: Exemplars, Institutions and Vectors" Journal of Islamic Studies 9.2 (1998): 210-28 "Social Science Approaches to Understanding Religious Ritual: The Special Case of the Hajj", in: Malaysia: Islam, Society and Politics, Virginia Hooker and Norani Othman (eds.), (Singapore: ISEAS, 2001) "Murder as an Aid to Social History: The Arab community in Singapore in the Early Twentieth century" in: Transcending Borders: Arabs, Politics, Trade and Islam in Southeast Asia, Huub de Jonge and Nico Kaptein (eds.) (KITLV, Leiden, 2002), 92-108 "Pondoks, Madrasas and the Production of 'Ulama in Malaysia," Studia Islamika 11.1 (2004): 1-21 "The Ins and Outs of Hadrami journalism in Malaya, 1900-1941: Assimilation or Identity Maintenance?," in: The Hadhrami Diaspora in Southeast Asia: Identity Maintenance or Assimilation, Ahmed A. Ibrahim Abushouk and Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim (eds.), (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 191-202 "Onomastics, and Taxonomies of Belonging in the Malay Muslim World," Journal of Islamic Studies 18.3 (2007): 386-405 Studies on Islam and Society in Southeast Asia (NUS Press, 2009) "Customary Law, Islamic Law, and Colonial Authority: Three Contrasting Case Studies and their Aftermath," Islamic Studies 49.4 (2010): 455-62 "Public Art, Nationalism and National Unification in Malaya/Malaysia," Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 85.1 (2011): 99-100 "Nasehat: Distance and Authority in a Malay Sultanate," Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 85.2 (2012): 99-102 "On Going into the Field," Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 85.2 (2012): 103-09 ****************************************************************** To post to H-ASIA simply send your message to: <H-ASIA@h-net.msu.edu> For holidays or short absences send post to: <email@example.com> with message: SET H-ASIA NOMAIL Upon return, send post with message SET H-ASIA MAIL H-ASIA WEB HOMEPAGE URL: http://h-net.msu.edu/~asia/ --