Students on the other side of the globe have a new connection to Augusta University, thanks to a book a professor started writing years earlier while a student.
Dr. Andrew Goss, Professor of History in the Department of History, Anthropology and Philosophy at Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, was recently invited to discuss his work with students at Airlangga University in Indonesia.
The Floracrats: State-sponsored science and the failure of the Enlightenment in Indonesia explores the history of science in the world’s fourth most populous nation. Goss first published the book in 2011. It was later translated into Indonesian and republished in 2014.
“It is one of the few books on science and politics in Indonesia,” he said.
Goss said the August virtual event was a student-led initiative, as undergraduate history students from the local branch of the Indonesian Islamic Students Union at Airlangga University took it on. contacted to organize the discussion.
Arranging the discussion at night due to an 11 a.m. time difference, Goss said the students were prepared and well organized. He said the turnout was even higher than the students had anticipated.
“Reaching such a distant audience – it’s just a very special experience,” he said.
At the meeting, Goss gave a 30-minute presentation about his work and notable figures in science in Indonesia to about 60 students.
“They got their teachers involved as well,” he said. “It worked very well. It was a fun way to connect with readers.
Airlangga University is the second oldest university in Indonesia. Located in Surabaya, East Java, the institution began as a medical school. It is known as one of the most prestigious universities in the region.
“It’s a very ambitious group of people running it,” he said.
Goss said he could imagine Augusta University making a formal connection with Airlangga in the future.
“I hope we can do more,” he said. “I think we have a lot in common. There might be an opportunity there.
Goss became interested in Indonesian studies as an undergraduate student at Cornell University in New York. He then began learning the country’s official language, Bahasa Indonesia, in 1993.
According to Goss, he began researching the topics covered in his book in 1997 at the University of Michigan, where he received his master’s and doctorate degrees. He spent time studying in Indonesia and in 2001 lived in Jakarta, where he did much of the archival research for the book.
Goss said when he started writing the book as a graduate student, his colleagues often wondered why he decided to write about a lesser-known topic.
“My challenge has always been to explain to my colleagues who have also studied Indonesian history that we should really pay attention to what is happening in the world of science,” he said. “Today, the history of science in Indonesia is attracting much more interest, both inside and outside Indonesia.”
As a historian, Goss said the field advances through new research, ideas and theories, which expands our understanding of the past as well as our present time.
“The past is full of interesting stories,” he said. “You have to explain why it’s important. We are making judgments today about what to pay attention to.
This is not the first time that Goss’ book has been the subject of public discussion in Indonesia. Three years ago, Goss said Indonesian historians talked about his book at one of the country’s major history museums. He was unable to appear in person at that time.
“It was so far, the only knowledge I had of the discussion was a newspaper article about it,” he said. “Zoom existed back then, but none of us thought to use it.”
Although Goss hasn’t been to Indonesia in 20 years, he continues to make an impact, as his book is often referenced in other articles and journals in the country. As an author, Goss said it was gratifying that her book was read and studied in a different way from a textbook.
“My book continues to be discussed,” he said, “It continues to resonate, in part because my scientific theory continues to attract attention in ways that people find useful to check out.”
“It’s good that I can still have a large readership,” he added.
Goss expressed his gratitude to the students of Airlangga University for contacting him and being interested in their country’s history.
With Indonesian history being a niche field of study among historians in the United States, and indeed the world, Goss said he wanted to continue the conversation. He has other related projects underway.
“I can work with students, I can talk with students in a way that wasn’t possible five years ago,” he said. “Having this connection with Indonesians who are more invested in their own history, it was super fun.”
The Floracrats: State-sponsored science and the failure of the Enlightenment in Indonesia by Goss is available on Amazon.