Central European Tropics: Physicians, Naturalists, and Diplomats in Search of Southeast Asia


Single Panel


Session 2
Tue 11:30-13:00 REC A2.05


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This panel proposal draws on the session titled Revisiting Central European “Classics” on Southeast Asia, convened at the EUROSEAS 2021 in Olomouc. However, in this proposed panel, we aim to place greater emphasis on the lives and accounts of explorers who, while perhaps less academically recognized, offer equally fascinating insights. Travelers from Bohemia, Poland, or Hungary to the East Indies and Further India were fewer in numbers than their counterparts from the traditional colonial empires such as Britain or France but no less motivated in their search for “adventure”, knowledge, or artifacts.

Our line-up includes Czech physicians serving in Sumatra and Java under the Dutch Royal Colonial Army like Durdík and Czurda, who were not only prolific writers but also avid collectors, whose assemblages of indigenous objects provided foundations for museum collections in Prague and Vienna. The Czech community also involved naturalists and diplomats including Jan Havlasa, who served as a member of the League of Nations´ Opium Commission and was dispatched to Southeast Asia in 1929 as part of the international effort to combat the drug trade. On the Hungarian side, there was Ernö Zboray, who lived in Java for 30 years and created a fantastic collection of Javanese wayang puppets.

These explorers were once prominent public figures and it may be assumed that their names have faded into obscurity ever since, but the opposite holds true: their books are being re-edited in their home countries, their life stories and accomplishments have become subjects of students-cum-scholarly theses, exhibitions and public lectures, and their overall legacy continues to be in high regard.