Dr Susie Protschky

Susie Protschky is a Senior Lecturer in Modern History, and Director of Monash University’s International Studies program. She researches on colonialism, cultural history and visual culture, with a special focus on photography. The Dutch empire in the modern era is her field, particularly the Netherlands East Indies (colonial Indonesia).

Susie obtained her PhD in History from the University of New South Wales in 2007, and recently held an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (ARC APD) (2010-2015).  The project focused on photography, monarchy and empire in the East Indies, with additional ventures into Afrikaner culture in South Africa, and the significance of the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina for colonial adherents to the liberal reform program known as the ‘Ethical Policy’ (c. 1900 – 1942).

Her next project is ‘Developing “Disaster”: Photography, Suffering and Colonial Catastrophe’.  It builds on her expertise in cultural histories of colonialism, photography and environment in Indonesia to examine the human impact of natural and regime-made disasters in a contiguous field, through the camera lenses trained on pain and suffering. This project traces how photography helped develop modern notions of ‘disaster’ in the first century or so after the camera was first employed in the Indonesia (c. 1840s), a period that coincided with the rapid proliferation of photography’s uses and, importantly, the violent expansion of the Dutch colonial state. Her project asks the following questions:

  • If, as current disaster scholarship suggests, most ‘natural’ disasters have a socio-political component, how has photography contributed to assimilating or differentiating between ‘environmental’ and ‘regime-made’ disasters? What role has the depiction of suffering played in upholding or dismantling these boundaries?
  • How do photograpic images relay ‘disaster’ and inform relations between observers and victims? How did photographers use the camera as a tool to think through causes of and solutions to disasters, or to frame and elicit domestic and international intervention?
  • What are the politics of memory surrounding photographs of natural and regime-made disasters in the transition to post-colonialism? What have been the historical, institutional, political and museological uses of these images, and how do they inform hierarchies of suffering in public spheres?



images-of-the-tropicsSusie Protschky, Images of the Tropics: Environment and Visual Culture in Colonial Indonesia (Leiden: KITLV Press/Brill, 2011).  

Images of the Tropics critically examines Dutch colonial culture in the Netherlands Indies through the prism of landscape art. The book contends that visual representations of nature and landscape were core elements of how Europeans understood the tropics, justified their territorial claims in the region, and understood their place both in imperial Europe and in colonized Asia during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her book thus makes a significant contribution to studies of empire, art and environment, as well as to histories of Indonesia and Europe.

For a sample chapter and supplier information, visit Brill or KITLV Press.

Cover_Photography, Modernity and the Governed

Susie Protschky (ed.), Photography, Modernity and the Governed in Late-Colonial Indonesia (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015).

The essays in this volume examine, from a historical perspective, how contested notions of modernity, civilization, and being governed were envisioned through photography in early twentieth-century Indonesia, a period when the Dutch colonial regime was implementing a liberal reform program known as the Ethical Policy. The contributors reveal how the camera evoked diverse, often contradictory modes of envisioning an ethically governed colony, one in which the very concepts of modernity and civilization were subject to dispute.

For further information, and to order a copy, visit Amsterdam University Press.

Recently published



Susie Protschky, ‘Orangists in a red empire: Salutations from a Dutch queen’s supporters in a British South Africa’ in Robert Aldrich and Cindy McCreery (eds), Crowns and Colonies: Monarchies and Empires (Manchester University Press, ‘Studies in Imperialism’ Series, 2016).

ABSTRACT: In 1910 the Union of South Africa became a British Dominion. However, rather than proclaim loyalty to the British Crown—the titular head of the British empire—some South Africans, notably those who identified as Afrikaners or Netherlanders, professed loyalty to the monarch of a rival empire, the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina. This chapter examines oorkonden (decorative letters) sent to Wilhelmina from her supporters in South Africa across the duration of her reign (1898–1948). The letters provide new evidence of how links with a Dutch colonial past that pre-dated British colonisation were revived by a white community reeling from defeat in the South African War (1899–1902) who continued to contest certain modes of their integration into a British imperium. The letters also suggest the particular appeal of a female king to Afrikaner women in a nascent women’s movement. Finally, the letters reveal the persistence of a notional ‘Dutch world’ that exceeded the bounds of the Netherlands’ formal empire in the early twentieth century.

Essays in press

Fig 2

Susie Protschky, ‘Landscape painting in Indonesia: Continuity and change in President Sukarno’s collection’ in  Low Sze Wee (ed.), Essays on Art in Southeast Asia: Charting Thoughts (Singapore: National Gallery of Singapore, forthcoming January 2017).

ABSTRACT: This essay examines the nature of continuity and change in Indonesian landscape painting in the twentieth century, tracing particularly the influence of Indonesia’s first major art collector, President Sukarno (1901–70). It investigates the transitions wrought by Indonesia’s decolonisation in the 1940s, comparing the works of mooi Indië (‘beautiful Indies’) paintings in the late-colonial period to the work of major Indonesian painters supported by Sukarno in the 1950s and 1960s. Much of the literature on art in this early postcolonial era focuses on the revolutionary ideals of the artists, the organisations they formed and the political contexts in which they painted. The content of the paintings themselves, however, reveals the persistence of certain tropes in the depiction of Indonesia’s environment into the early independence era, and thus begs the related questions: what made colonial landscape art ‘colonial’, and what made postcolonial landscape art ‘Indonesian’?


Susie Protschky, ‘Strained encounters: Royal Indonesian visits to the Dutch court in the early twentieth century’ in Robert Aldrich and Cindy McCreery (eds), Royals on Tour: Politics and Pageantry in Colonies and Metropoles (Manchester: Manchester University Press, forthcoming July 2018).