Research Projects

Race and the History of Genomics in Malaysia

This project marries the history of medicine started in previous research on the medical department during the Japanese occupation of Malaya and continues strands started in the project regarding Orang Asli and the construction of race in Malaya. In the 1950s, studies on Orang Asli that went beyond outward physical measurements started by taking blood in order to study Orang Asli using blood-group anthropology. As Malaysia became more technologically and medically advanced, studies on the human genome in general became more prominent, leading to participation in the Human Genome Project and papers in internationally-acclaimed journals on genetics. This research seeks to understand the growth of genomic research in Malaysia in light of the earlier thinking about race. 

This project was awarded the 2020-2021 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship (FWiS). For more information, see: FWIS website


Malay Medical texts and intersections between Islamic medicine, colonial medicine and modernity

A recent exhibition of medical manuscripts at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) entitled "Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions in Islamic Medical Manuscripts" successfully raised awareness of traditional healing among Malays featuring the museum’s collection of Malay medical and divination manuscripts. Malay medicine and traditional healing are known to be a form of sacred knowledge and art that is usually passed down from one generation to another or to a trusted apprentice. The start of concerted British efforts to understand the medical history and circumstances of the Malay peninsula in order to better extract resources saw efforts to collect local knowledge, prompting colonial administrators such as Richard Winstedt, John Gimlette and W. W. Skeat to record their experiences and perceptions of Malay medical practices inscribed in written manuals known as Kitab Tibb Melayu (Malay Book of Medicine) and Kitab Faal or Kitab Ramalan (Books on Divination). Contrary to seeing Malay medical practices solely as part of traditional medicine, this research situates Malay medical manuscripts or Kitab Tibb at the intersection of Malay, Islamic and colonial medicine. 

Collaborator: Siti Marina Maidin

Japanese Occupation of Malaya

The Japanese occupation was a watershed period in the history of Southeast Asia in general and Malaysia in particular. Until now, primary research into the occupation in Malaya has been separated by language. Japanese publications are rarely consulted by English-language researchers due to the lack of knowledge of their existence or adequate translations. This barrier has hampered the historical search into the occupation period, especially Japanese understandings of Malay people and their relationship to the “Asia for Asians” philosophy and the concerns of people in Malaya during the occupation as reported by occupation forces and administration. This project will identify key primary sources in Japanese located in Japan and Taiwan to be translated into English regarding the history, anthropology and education of Malay peoples during the occupation. This newly translated and infrequently accessed material will be analysed in light of previous scholarship on the Occupation to gain a deeper understanding of Japan’s mindset regarding Malaya and local experiences during that time.

Partner researchers: Naoko Iioka (PhD History, National University of Singapore, Freelance translator and Independent Researcher). Initial translations by Damian David Jungmann, Frankfurt.

Publication and database:

Translation of Japanese entries Bibliography on the Japanese Occupation Period of Malaya (1941-1945). Tôkyô: Ryûkei shosha, 2007. マラヤ日本占領期文献目録(1941-1945)龍渓書舎 2007). Compilers: Akashi Yoji, Hara Fujio and Masutani Satoshi, the Forum for Research Materials on the Japanese Occupation of Malaya and Singapore. As the original bibliography lists English, Malay, and Chinese language publications as well, it is recommended to refer to the original bibliography book, which was published by Ryukei Shosha.

The translated entries of the bibliography may be consulted at the NTU HSS library intranet here. The Preface and Notes to the Translation may be accessed here.

Users who wish to consult the online resource at Nanyang Technological University should write in beforehand to request for a visitor pass (valid for 7 days) to access the excel file on-site at designated workstations in the Lee Wee Nam Library.

Sumitomo Japan-Related Research Grant, awarded to Sandra Khor Manickam and Naoko Iioka for Financial Year April 2017 - January 2019 (Completed)

Ando Kozo and the Medical Department of the Japanese Military Administration of Malaya (1941-1945)

This project investigates the history of Japanese medical migrants to British Malaya and their roles during the occupation within a larger history of medicine and imperialism. This ground-breaking research bridges the linguistic divide separating Japanese and non-Japanese research into the World War II in Southeast Asia by utilizing Japanese, English and Malay sources to research the role of medicine in the Japanese occupation of Malaya.

The Early Anthropology of Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay

A Russian in Malaya: Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay’s Malaya Expeditions (November 1874 – October 1875), with Dr Elena Govor (Australian National University)

Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay is not usually a name associated with the Malay Peninsula or with the Malay World. While he is a well-known figure in anthropological circles of Australia and the Pacific, his writings on the indigenous people of Malay Peninsula remain fragmented and confined to several articles translated into English from originals in German in Journal of Eastern Asia and Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1878. Maclay’s journal, which he wrote in Russian during his first expedition to Malaya, remains one of the earliest anthropological documents of indigenous peoples of Malaya and gives multiple insights into indigenous and Malay societies in transition. 


S.K. Manickam & E. Govor (2014). A Russian in Malaya: Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay’s Expedition to the Malay Peninsula and the Early Anthropology of Orang Asli.Opens external Indonesia and the Malay World, 42 (123), 222-245.

African Students in Malaysia

Solidarity in an oppressive world? The promise of Malaysia-African interactions in Higher Education

This research investigates how Malaysia’s foreign policy vis-à-vis African counties links to the push for the globalization of Malaysian private higher education (PHE) of which African students as customers plays a big part. From the 1960s, Malaysian politicians have fostered the idea that South-South development initiatives form a strong counter narrative to Western or Northern domination in the political and economic spheres. Leaders of countries involved in South-South initiatives promote this narrative as a better form of development that will lead to less dependence on former colonizing countries’ financial aid. This research traces the early engagements between Malaysia and African countries and, in particular, Malaysian’s support of an anti-apartheid regime in South Africa and its positioning as a champion of South-South solidarity. Yet the solidarity implied in Malaysia educating the citizens of African countries comes up against the realities of inequality among Malaysia’s own citizenry, racism towards African students in Malaysian society and the corruption underpinning South-South partnerships. This paper will look at the contradictions in the promise of South-South development.


"Solidarity in an oppressive world? The paradox of Malaysia-African interactions in Higher Education", for inclusion in Cynthia Joseph & Susan Plowright (Eds) Education reforms, nationalism and neoliberalism: Policies and politics in Malaysian Education. London: Routledge

Last edited June 2020