Through their studies, their medical practice, and their participation in the Association of Indonesian Physicians, Indonesian physicians in the Dutch East Indies developed and articulated a strong professional identity. The promises of modern medicine were important elements of this professional identity and motivated these physicians to develop critical perspectives on colonial society. They participated in social and cultural movements as well as political activities. In this paper, I discuss the political views and nationalist activities of several generations of Indonesian physicians. At various times, Indonesian physicians criticised traditional culture, advocated public health measures and increases in funding for health, criticised income disparities between Indonesian and European physicians, defended traditional culture and embraced it as a model for an alternate modernity for Indonesia. During the process of decolonisation, they transformed colonial medicine into a modern approach to maintain health, inspired by examples and connections all over the world.
Hans Pols is Professor and Head of School of the School of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney. His research focuses on the history of medicine in the Dutch East Indies.
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Image: Students and their teacher at the Dutch Indies Physicians School, Surabaya, 1930s.