My Twitter Account
In this post I’m going to explain what my Twitter account is supposed to be and how it’s supposed to work.
- My account is a personal one. It is run by one person with a particular viewpoint. That viewpoint is unique.
- My account does not represent the views or subject matter of any single existing academic discipline. There is no “medieval Indonesia” course anywhere in the world. You cannot get an MA in it and the term isn’t really recognised anywhere, except in very vague terms. In a strict sense, the phrase was coined by me. (See here for what I mean by “medieval”.) If you want to study what I do, then you have to take a course in something as general as “Asian Studies” and spend several semesters learning about nineteenth-century Japanese prints or the democratisation of Taiwan. Do not imagine that “medieval Indonesia” is as well-studied or well-known as “medieval Europe”.
- My account is an attempt to make people think differently about the things they study, whether they’re looking at early-modern Indonesia or medieval Europe (or whatever else). It is an attempt to bring into existence and to share a particular way of looking at the history of island Southeast Asia and, by extension, the world. This is grandiose but, I think, justifiable.
- My account is not supposed to be pop history. It’s supposed to be an extension of academic history and philology on a different platform. It is both personal and academic. It is pseudonymous because I want to popularise the phrase “medieval Indonesia”. I understand that it makes a lot of people assume that every single thing I ever tweet will be a nice, pretty thing depicting a temple in Java or whatever (like that “Photos of Silk Road” account — “Temple of Ephesus, Efes, Turkey, Silk Road”). I am not particularly interested in doing that. You can find pretty pictures on Wikipedia (search for “Candi”). I’m more interested in historiography. If you prefer the pretty pictures, perhaps my account isn’t for you. And that’s fine — I’m sure you’ll find something else.
- Because there are few fellow travellers and little to hold us together as a discipline in any event, I don’t do a lot of meme-ing. Memes are so often about showing that you recognise some touchstone or other (and not just the meme format itself). I cannot guarantee that many of my followers will recognise any touchstones, coming as they do from different communities and different backgrounds. Some of my followers are Indonesian citizens interested in the non-Islamic past; others are philologists working on medieval Europe. They have next to nothing in common — at least, nothing memeable. I do not have a single natural audience and it is difficult to strike any sort of balance.
- I focus on late-medieval manuscripts and other texts, mostly of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries CE in West Java. In no way is this representative of most work on Indo-Malaysia before the sixteenth century. I talk about Sunda and Sundanese a lot more than most historians and philologists of the region do. That’s because this is a Twitter account espousing a particular individual’s view on things; it is not an attempt to put forward the consensus from a single well-defined discipline, and it is not intended to flatter preconceptions of the region’s history.
- I’m not keen to replicate the toxic structures of academia on Twitter, and I’m no more likely to reply to a tweet from a renowned academic than I am to reply to a tweet from a random person in the middle of nowhere. In fact, given how a lot of my interactions with renowned academics have gone in the past, I’m probably less likely to reply to them.
- I’m on Twitter to share knowledge, much of it hard-won. Some insights are original to me; other stuff comes from academic articles and odd little dictionaries and things of that nature. Most of what I tweet isn’t easily accessible, and many of the books I find these things in are expensive and not widely available. So this knowledge is valuable.
- I have used political tweets as a way of weeding out undesirable followers. You don’t choose who follows you, but a tweet about Brexit or Trump helps to identify Brexiteers and Trumpkins. I do not want to share knowledge with people like that; knowledge is valuable, and I do not want such people benefiting from it. I understand that such tweets can be alienating to other followers, but I’m not going to go through my list of followers identifying Brexiteers and blocking them, and because I don’t receive much if any abuse I don’t feel the need to use a blocklist. I’ll endeavour to be subtle.
- This ain’t my first rodeo. I’ve had other accounts in the past, sometimes with the same followers. Some people who have been super-friendly with me on another account have been needlessly dismissive to me on this one and vice versa. I’m pretty cynical about Twitter as a medium for social interaction but I’m happy to use it to spread knowledge and ideas. I should also say that I used to be followed on other accounts by a lot of alt-rightists (proper ones, people who identified as alt-right long before Trump), and I’m not really fazed by abuse or anything like that. I’ve seen it before.
- I do not suffer fools. I used to — and that ended in my receiving favourable coverage from people like John Derbyshire and the Unz Review (because, you see, I was willing to actually talk to the troglodytes to find out their views). I’m tired of living in a right-wing world and I only see people on the other side as enemies these days. If this perspective isn’t to your liking, feel free to unfollow because this enmity to reactionary views is now at the core of my being. Broadening the minds of others through neat tweets about the hemispheric Middle Ages is in part a reaction against our reactionary times.
- In the past I’ve been very critical of the Netherlands, where I happen to live and happen to be doing my PhD. I don’t like it here and I want to move. The reasons for that are probably pretty obvious: I like to spend time alone in nature and that isn’t really possible here. And the food’s a bit dull. We can’t move, though — not so much because of my PhD but rather because my spouse isn’t European. Moving means visas. It also means hassle, loss of income, and other things of that nature. I’m from Britain but there’s no chance we’ll go back there at this rate, largely because of Brexit (and also because of the absurd financial requirements on British spouse visas). So, look, if I feel like shouting into the void about what a weird-ass country Holland is, feel free to unfollow my account, or simply tell yourself that this is the price you pay for tweets about fifteenth-century Timorese textiles and so forth.
- I work for money. I’m working on my thesis but I’m also teaching English to survive. I feel followers should be aware of this — I don’t have a cushy academic position and I tweet and write out of love.
- The number of academic positions open to someone studying what I study is very small indeed and always has been — my undergraduate dissertation supervisor once worked for Tesco during a gap in his academic career. Such things plague academia today — too many graduates and not enough funds to hire them all in universities and museums, because of nasty conservative pressure to cut budgets across the board — but they’ve always been common in Southeast Asian studies. I am researching and tweeting about medieval Indonesia because I think it’s interesting and important, not because I think I’ll be headhunted by Harvard. I’m not a mega-careerist. I’d appreciate it if you could cut me some slack when I seem unprofessional because, at the end of the day, I’m not a professional in this sense.
- I have never privately messaged anyone on Twitter if they haven’t messaged me first and I haven’t messaged anyone out of the blue. If you’re wondering why I haven’t chatted to you, it’s because I don’t want to intrude. Feel free to DM me whenever you like and I’ll feel duty-bound to reply, but I won’t be initiating anything and you shouldn’t interpret that reluctance to send messages as any kind of insult.
- I work on a text called Bujangga Manik. In fact I’m putting together an edition of the text for my thesis, which is an old school but worthwhile approach to the PhD. The text is an Old Sundanese poem about an ascetic who travels around Java and Bali in the fifteenth century. He disdains the company of people and spends most of his time on the road. He spends time in a hermitage but people keep visiting him to offer gold and flowers, and he gets annoyed and walks off. Too many lowlanders, too many people — that’s his refrain. His life’s mission is to find a proper place to die. He spends time in several sanctuaries reading texts and contemplating the universe, and then he dies. I’m not going to lie: I like Bujangga Manik in part because I can see myself in the character.
- Yes, I deleted all my tweets. I don’t have copies of them and they’re gone forever. If you fancy stealing an idea I’ve given you without crediting me, you are entirely free to do so. There’s no evidence to prove I ever came up with it first. I’m not possessive of these things, in large part because I don’t think the ideas are as important as the things they are supposed to explain.
- Oops, forgot this one: yep, I’m a white man from Europe. I’m married to a white woman from sort-of-Europe. I did not start out in Southeast Asian studies because I’m from the region and my “expertise”, such as it is, is very specific. I am not a font of wisdom about the entire region in general; I cannot match a local resident of Indonesia in such things. So do bear that in mind when you read my tweets.
I suppose that’s all of it. If you have any questions, email me at email@example.com or send me a message on Twitter. I’m a fair and reasonable person (even though I don’t care much for cats or gifs), and I’ll respond to any queries, although perhaps not right away. Unless it’s really obvious that I’m being snarky, I’m probably not.
With that said, I’ll get back to tweeting on the regular.