04 Jan 2016: Glimpses of Penang’s Past

jmbras-1An engaging collection of mostly rare articles have been made available to the public yet again in an attempt to provoke a fresh reinterpretation of Penang history and to supplement, wherever possible, existing gaps in current Penang historiography.

This book requires little introduction to enthusiasts of Penang history. Glimpses of Penang’s Past features a selection of articles reprinted from the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JMBRAS) which have been sourced from very early issues – starting with the nineteenth century – to the present day.

Conveniently housed within a 300-plus-page paperback, the articles – many of them sought after – are now accessible to readers unable to locate individual issues of JMBRAS or its now-defunct predecessor, Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JSBRAS). The earliest articles were, up until now, usually available only at specialist antiquarian or dusty secondhand bookshops.


The first issue of the Journal of The Straits Branch of The Royal Asiatic Society, July 1878

The fourteen titles are divided into three main themes – Early Settlement; Administrative and Economic Development; and People & Culture. Meticulously hand-picked by scholars Dr Loh Wei Leng and Dr Badriyah Haji Salleh, the collected essays represent more than just nostalgia for the glories of old Penang. Rather, the aim is to stimulate thought and debate, with subjects such as: early European settlement in Penang, commerce, first-hand accounts of socioeconomic life, early land administration and agricultural development, people, culture, communities, secret societies, religious practices and language.

Admittedly, the selections in Glimpses can only provide a bird’s eye view of Penang’s intriguing past. Nonetheless, the editors are confident that a reading of these informative articles will serve to further enrich current knowledge and understanding with fresh insight and analyses, and perhaps even open up new platforms for historical inquiry and discussions.