Bernard Z. Keo

Staff member

Bernard Z. Keo is an Associate Research Fellow of history attached to the Australian Research Council-funded ‘Decolonisation and Photography in Southeast Asia’ research project. His work primarily investigates decolonisation and nation-building in post-World War II Malaya and Singapore, focussing particularly on alternative imaginaries of the nation put forward by minority groups in the lead-up to independence. He also has training and experience in the Digital Humanities, serving as a historical consultant, designer, and developer for Virtual Angkor.

  • Research

    The main focus of Bernard’s research thus far has been on the political activities of the Peranakan Chinese of the former Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore (now split across modern-day Malaysia and Singapore). He argues that the Peranakan attempted to bring to life a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic, and inclusive vision of the Malayan nation-state as an alternative to the ethnocentric model that gained independence in 1957 and remains in place today.

    Alongside a focus on nationalism and nation-making, he also investigates the End of Empire and decolonisation in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. As part of ‘Decolonisation and Photography in Southeast Asia’, he is assisting Associate Professor Susie Protschky in a major study of the Indonesian National Revolution and the Malayan Emergency through the lens of amateur photographs taken by Dutch and British servicemen as a means of understanding the visual language of counterinsurgency conflicts as well as generating new understandings of how ordinary Malayans and Indonesians experienced both conflicts.

    Part of his research explores urban life in the cosmopolitan port-cities of the Straits Settlements. In a recent project developed as part of a competitive mentorship workshop organised by the Global Urban History Project, he explored how Penang fit within intra-, trans-, and extra-imperial networks that spanned the British, Dutch, and Japanese Empires. More recently, he also won a Humanities Travelling Fellowship from the Australian Academy of the Humanities to start work on his next long-term project: a social history of hawkers from the nineteenth century to today, focussing particularly on how they fit within the social fabric of Penang and Singapore.

    Outside of traditional research outputs, Bernard is also actively engaged in the Digital Humanities. With Associate Professor Adam Clulow (University of Texas at Austin), Dr Tom Chandler (Monash University), Mike Yeates (Monash University), Samuel Horewood (Duke University), and Associate Professor Martin Polkinghorne (Flinders University), he played a leading role in the development of Virtual Angkor. The program is an open-access digital education platform designed to teach students about the Khmer Empire and its global connections which won the Roy N. Rosenzweig Prize for Digital History in 2018 and the Medieval Society of America’s Digital Humanities and Multimedia Studies Prize in 2021.

  • Selected Publications

    Bernard Z. Keo, ‘Between Empire and Nation(s): The Peranakan Chinese of the Straits Settlements, 1890-1948’, in Peter Monteath and Matthew Fitzpatrick (eds), Amidst Empires: Colonialism, China and the Chinese, 1839-1997 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020).

    Bernard Z. Keo, ‘Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones: Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China’, Education About Asia 25, no. 2 (2020): 33-42.

    Adam Clulow, Bernard Z. Keo, and Samuel Horewood ‘Teaching with Trials: Using Digital Humanities and Courtroom Recreations to Flip the Humanities Classroom’, in Christopher Young and Emma Annette Wilson (eds) Quick Hits: Teaching with the Digital Humanities (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2020).

    Nathan D. Gardner and Bernard Z. Keo ‘Made in China or Born Abroad?: Identity and Belonging in the Chinese Diaspora’, Education About Asia (Online Supplement) 25, no. 2 (2020): 1-8.

    Bernard Z. Keo, ‘A Small, Distant War?: Historiographical Reflections on the Malayan Emergency’, History Compass 17, no. 3 (2019): 1-12. 

    Tom Chandler, Adam Clulow, Bernard Z. Keo, Mike Yeates, and Martin Polkinghorne, ‘Virtual Angkor’, 2019,

    Georgia O’Connor and Bernard Z. Keo, ‘The Norris Embassy to Mughal India’, 2019,

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