Jogjakarta Conference, December 1957

Timor-Leste and Indonesia are very different countries and their circumstances were quite dissimilar when they attained independence. However, there are certain similarities between the two countries in relation to the issue of national history and history-writing.

When Dutch colonial rule ended (between Indonesia’s Proclamation of Independence in 1945 and its recognition by the Netherlands in 1949, there were an armed conflict and a social revolution in the country), there were no more than 2 or 3 Indonesians who had been trained as historians. The need to write history from an Indonesian perspective, both at an academic level as well as for school textbooks, was felt since the early days of the Republic. However, it was not a priority during the first decade after independence.

In the debates held during those years, some believed that history should be used to support a nationalist identity, while others argued that it should develop in an atmosphere of intellectual freedom and be conscious of the country’s multicultural fabric.

In December 1957, Gadjah Mada University, the University of Indonesia and the Ministry of Education and Culture convened a conference in Jogjakarta (Yogyakarta) to debate the issue and encourage research and the writing of history by Indonesians.

One of the topics on the agenda was “the philosophical concept of national history”. The topic was discussed from rather different perspectives by two distinguished intellectuals and leading figures of the Republic, Mohammad Yamin and Soedjatmoko. The address by the latter can be read here in an English translation and with a preface by George Kahin.

The contributions of other participants in the conference were collected in a book, of which an English translation is available here. The chapters on historical sources were, at the time, the most comprehensive guide on primary sources for the study of the history of Indonesia.

May the Jogjakarta Conference of 1957 act as an encouragement and an example for the work that academic and archival institutions in Timor-Leste will have to undertake to promote the development of historical studies in the country.

Image: “An Introduction to Indonesian Historiography”, edited by Soedjatmoko.

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