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In Session: Living Heritage & Historical Memory in Southeast Asia (II)
4: The Art of Maritime Heritage? Geopolitics and maritime pasts in Southeast Asia
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
National University of Singapore, Singapore
The Chinese 21st Century Maritime Silk Road has triggered a renewed interest in the history and significance of maritime interactions. Across Southeast Asia (SEA), national governments have sought to develop new policies and encourage multiple initiatives to promote their respective maritime heritage. This can be seen as an attempt for SEA countries to counter the Maritime Silk Road meta-narrative, mobilize new conceptions of the region’s historical prominence, and (re)position the respective countries on the global map of maritime interactions. Yet, beyond the meta-narratives of connectivity whose heritage is being celebrated? And how exactly is the ‘maritime’ conceptualized?
To explore such questions, this paper interrogates recent constructions of maritime heritage in Indonesia and Singapore. By focusing on the (mis)alignment between government and community-organized heritage initiatives, the paper highlights the existence of multiple meanings and narratives associated with maritime interactions. The paper argues that while community-led initiatives should not be interpreted as “weapons of the weak,” they do expose both the limits and opportunities of heritage initiatives in constructing larger geopolitical narratives.