The Straits Philosophical Society & Colonial Elites Malaya

The Straits Philosophical Society & Colonial Elites Malaya

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Founded in Singapore in 1893, the Straits Philosophical Society was a society for the “critical discussion of questions in Philosophy, History, Theology, Literature, Science and Art”. Its membership was restricted to graduates of British and European universities, fellows of British or European learned societies and those with “distinguished merit in the opinion of the Society in any branch of knowledge”.

Its closed-door meetings were an important gathering place for the educated elite of the colony, comprising colonial civil servants, soldiers, missionaries, businessmen, as well as prominent Straits Chinese members. Notable members included the botanist Henry Ridley, the missionary W.G. Shellabear and Straits Chinese reformers like Lim Boon Keng and Tan Teck Soon.

Throughout its years of operation, the Society left behind a collection of papers presented by its members, the vast majority of which conformed to the Society’s founding rule that its geographical position should influence its work.

This produced a large corpus of literature on colonial Malaya which provides important insights into the logic and dynamics of colonial thought in the period before the First World War. In reproducing a collection of these papers this volume highlights the role of the Society in the development of ideas of race, Malayness, colonial modernization, urban government and debates over the political and socio-economic future of the colony.


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