On the Spot: Soe Tjen Marching

‘The more I read, the more I change my mind.’

A rally held by the Communist Party of Indonesia
A rally held by the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) commemorating its 45th anniversary, 23 May 1965. Wiki Commons.

Why are you a historian of 20th-century Indonesia?

Because in Indonesia the recent past is still with us. The legacy of the mass killings of 1965-66 has never been resolved.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?

Horrible mistakes tend to repeat themselves.

Which history book has had the greatest influence on you?

Ben Anderson’s Imagined Communities.

What book in your field should everyone read?

Bradley R. Simpson’s Economists With Guns.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

However difficult it would be, I’d go back to Java in 1965. I want to know what happened to my father.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

Which person in history would you most like to have met? 

Ratu Kalinyamat, the Javanese queen who opposed the Dutch during the 16th century.

How many languages do you have?

Indonesian, Javanese, English, German and Mandarin.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

Almost everything. The more I read, the more I change my mind.

What is the most common misconception about your field?

That it is unimportant.

Which genre of history do you like least?

The history of monarchy and ‘Great Men’.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?

The study of Cold War Asia that doesn’t focus on the Vietnam War.

Is there an important historical text you have not read?

Ang Cheng Guan’s Southeast Asia’s Cold War: An Interpretive History.

What’s your favourite archive?

Perpustakaan Online Genosida – the online library of the 1965 genocide.

What’s the best museum?

The British Museum.

What technology has changed the world the most?

The printing press.

The Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean?

The Indian Ocean.

Historical drama or documentary?


The Parthenon or Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu.

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?

Atrocities against human and animal rights.


Soe Tjen Marching is Senior Lecturer in Indonesian at SOAS, University of London and author of The End of Silence: Accounts of the 1965 Genocide in Indonesia (Amsterdam University Press, 2017).