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Melinda Susanto

PhD candidate / Guest

M. Susanto
+31 71 527 2727

Melinda Susanto is a PhD candidate at the Institute for History. Her current research investigates the circulations of medical knowledge and goods between the Indian Ocean and the early modern Dutch Republic.

More information about Melinda Susanto

Fields of interest

• Early modern global history
• History of natural history collections
• History of science, medicine and technology
• History of the book 
• Visual and material cultures of science


My PhD research revolves around the question: how did the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) make use of medical expertise and goods to establish themselves as a political and intellectual power in Asia? What kind of interactions did agents affiliated with the VOC have with Asian intellectuals and communities in the context of health and medicine? What impact did these interactions have on the intellectual milieu, social fabric or mobilities of communities in the Indian Ocean? Which local remedies and uses of plants from the Indian Ocean came to be written about in Dutch sources? These are some questions I am currently investigating for my research.

My interdisciplinary project brings together a diverse body of sources to write connected histories of knowledge between Asia and Europe – including the records of trading companies, scientific society archives, ships’ journals, botanical drawings, health manuals, and vernacular sources.


Initially trained as an art historian, I discovered a passion for early modern books and prints, sparking a long-standing interest in connected histories between Europe and Asia from the 17th to the 19th centuries. I wrote my first MA thesis on the rhetoric of botany and landscape in early modern Dutch travel accounts of China. This initial interest in using plants to think about interactions between Asia and Europe continued to grow through my curatorial projects in Singapore. 

I joined Leiden University in 2018 as part of the Cosmopolis Advanced programme. Building upon my interest in analysing intercultural encounters through the cultural history of plants, I wrote my second MA thesis on the history of cinnamon in the 18th century Dutch Empire, connecting its reception in the Dutch Republic to its cultivation in Sri Lanka. Through this research, I came across mentions of the use of cinnamon as therapeutics, which led to my current project. 

Since 2020, I have been developing my PhD research on the role of medical expertise and goods in the politics of the Indian Ocean world. Plants, naturally, remain a large part of my research – in their function as remedies to human ailments, but also how human relationships with nature and the environment are closely intertwined with our understandings of health and well-being, past and present. 

PhD candidate / Guest

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Institute for History
  • Algemene Geschiedenis
  • No relevant ancillary activities
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