Planting Empire, Cultivating Subjects

By Tan Mei Kuan

Professor Emerita Lynn Hollen Lees gave an illustrated talk based on her book, “Planting Empire, Cultivating Subjects: British Malaya, 1786-1941” during the Bicara Warisan (Heritage Discourse) hosted by Perak Heritage Society. It was held on Wednesday, October 23 at MU Hotel.

The 78-year-old Lynn, who co-founded the Perak Oral History project, explained to Ipoh Echo, “I spent a long time thinking about that title. My book is about British colonial rule and the way that the British governed Malaya. I deal, in the book, with plantations and towns. I’m interested in the attitudes of the people living in British Malaya toward the British and I argue that British rule produced particular kinds of British subjects. The title is a play on words that has to do with agriculture. The empire is planted on the ground when the British came and they did it via agriculture: the sugar and the rubber. In order to make the people into British subjects, you have to cultivate them. What they were doing was trying to cultivate subjects who would be loyal, obedient and not object.”

Lynn is a Professor of History Emerita at the University of Pennsylvania and a past president of the Urban History Association. She has written extensively on cities and social history in Europe and elsewhere.

What keeps her doing what she is doing? “I love learning about things and I love studying Malaysia,” she enthused.

Lynn donated five copies of her book to various public and academic libraries via a presentation ceremony towards the end of the enlightening session.

The hardcover copy (priced at RM325) was published in 2018 while the paperback came out just recently. The hardcopy can be ordered through gerakbudayapenang.com while the paperback will be made available at the site once in stock.

Meanwhile, Perak Heritage Society is a non-profit NGO with a vision to record, document and care for the outstanding natural, cultural and industrial heritage of Perak for the benefit of the people and visitors, now and in the future.

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