Trade and Society in the Straits of Melaka

Dutch Melaka and English Penang, 1780-1830

by Nordin Hussin

  • Published: 2006
  • Pages: 415 pp.
  • illustrated
  • Series: NIAS Monographs
  • Series number: 100
Available from NIAS Press worldwide except Asia-Pacific
ISBN Hardback: 978 87 91114 47 2, £50.00 (June 2006)
ISBN Paperback: 978 87 91114 88 5, £19.99 ()

WINNER OF THE ICAS BOOK PRIZE - COLLEAGUES CHOICE AWARD, 2007. This study compares Melaka and Penang in the context of overall trends - policy; geographical position; nature and direction of trade; and morphology and society - and how these factors were influenced by trade and policies. Nordin shows where and how Melaka and Penang fit in the urban traditions of Southeast Asia and the significance of the shift from the height of the ’Age of Commerce’ towards the period of heightened imperialist activities.

WINNER OF THE ICAS BOOK PRIZE - COLLEAGUES CHOICE AWARD, 2007


This pioneering work from a member of Malaysia’s new generation of historians is a tale of two very different cities, the one with a trading heritage dating back centuries, the other a new creation spawned by the declining fortunes of the once mighty Dutch East India Company. Melaka was an important commercial entrepot on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula long before it fell to Portuguese forces in 1511, but thereafter began an extended process of decline that would continue after the Dutch conquest of the city in 1641. Penang became a significant port after 1786 when ‘country traders’ created a base on the island to defy the Dutch monopoly, although it was quickly overshadowed by Singapore after the founding of a British settlement there in 1819.


Drawing on a large volume of archival records, many of them not used by earlier historians, Trade and Society in the Straits of Melaka examines the social and economic fabric of these two port cities, the one very much a Dutch town and the other British. Along the way, the author deals with a number of key questions. Did colonial port cities have a different character and structure from indigenous towns? Did the administrative style of the Dutch and English differ substantially? What was the economic basis of Melaka and Penang? What was the effect of the European presence on indigenous trade and society? The answers involve considerations of urban morphology, demographic characteristics and migration, property rights, and slave ownership. The author also provides a detailed account of shipping in the Straits of Melaka, and discusses how this information contributes to debates concerning the decline of the region’s ‘Age of Commerce’ in the face of imperialist competition.


By documenting the impact of imperialist ambitions on the economy and society of two major trading centres, this book breaks new ground and will provide a point of reference for all future research concerning the period.


‘This is a genuine pioneering study of Malaysian urban history that breaks much new ground. At its best it is a fine-grained social history of which we have seen far too little in Southeast Asia.’ - Professor Tony Reid, Director, Asia Research Institute, Singapore

 

by Hans Hägerdal, Växjö University
From journal:
Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of South-East Asia and Oceania. 164, 1. 2008

"The present work, … is a valuable addition to this line of research.

… an impressive contribution to the history of early colonial urban society and economy.  It will surely serve as a standard work in the field for years to come."

"The present work, … is a valuable addition to this line of research.

… an impressive contribution to the history of early colonial urban society and economy.  It will surely serve as a standard work in the field for years to come."

by Nurfadzilah Yahaya, Princeton University
From journal:
Itinerario, 31(3), 2007

 Nordin Hussin’s book is an excellent resource for the study of a system of trade in the Malay Archipelago as it provides an excellent overview of the importance of the Straits of Malacca towards the end of the eighteenth century from the perspective of the two most importance [sic.] ports prior to the founding of Singapore.

 Nordin Hussin’s book is an excellent resource for the study of a system of trade in the Malay Archipelago as it provides an excellent overview of the importance of the Straits of Malacca towards the end of the eighteenth century from the perspective of the two most importance [sic.] ports prior to the founding of Singapore.

by Alfons van der Kraan
From journal:
International Journal of Maritime History

"Hussin’s book makes a most valuable contribution to our knowledge of Malaysian history, of Asian trade in the latter dags of sail, and of the colonial port-towns of Melaka and Penang."

"Hussin’s book makes a most valuable contribution to our knowledge of Malaysian history, of Asian trade in the latter dags of sail, and of the colonial port-towns of Melaka and Penang."

by A.V.M. Horton
From journal:
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, series 3, volume 18/2-2008

"…an impressive piece of research and a fomidable work of reference."

"…an impressive piece of research and a fomidable work of reference."

by Janice Stargardt
From journal:
ASEASUK

"…a mine of precious data framed by thoughtful and thought-provoking theoretical appraisals."

"…a mine of precious data framed by thoughtful and thought-provoking theoretical appraisals."

by James Fichter
From journal:
Lingnan University in H-Net Reviews in the Humanities and Social Sciences

“… Nordin Hussin has added valuably to our understanding of colonial Malaya.

“… Nordin Hussin has added valuably to our understanding of colonial Malaya. Hussin examines the comparative histories of Dutch Melaka and British Penang at the turn of the ninetieth century, not as a historian writing in the old metropoles of Britain and the Netherlands might-as a comparative empire-but as a historian writing and publishing in the Malay world might-as a history of urban Malaysia.

…Hussin’s work is not without value for scholars of Britain’s empire as well."

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