Merle Calvin Ricklefs AM FAHA

It is with deep regret that the Academy informs you of the recent passing of Emeritus Professor Merle Calvin Ricklefs on 29 December 2019 at 76 years of age. A world renowned scholar in the history of Indonesia, Professor Ricklefs dedicated his academic career to understanding how Indonesian society reacted to both the European presence and the spread of Islam, and was widely acclaimed for his unrivalled knowledge of Javanese sources. He was elected to the Academy in 1989. 

Merle Ricklefs was born on 17 July, 1943, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, USA. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Colorado College in 1965 and his PhD from Cornell University in 1973. Early in his career he held positions as Lecturer in the History of South East Asia at the University of London and Guest Lecturer at Leiden University in The Netherlands before moving to Australia in 1980 to become Professor of History at Monash University. During his time at Monash, Professor Ricklefs was instrumental in expanding and promoting the historical study of Indonesia. It is thanks to him that Monash now houses a substantial collection of Indonesian books and archival materials, built up steadily during his 13 years at Monash. He was also the co-founder and driving force behind the Monash Orientation Scheme for Aborigines, demonstrating a passionate commitment to education for Indigenous Australians throughout his career. 

Following his departure from Monash University in 1993, Professor Ricklefs took up a position at the Australian National University, where he was Director of the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies. He was the Founding Director of the Melbourne Institute of Asian Languages and Societies at the University of Melbourne and held this position until 2005. Whilst undertaking these leadership roles, he continued to maintain his prolific research career, sole-authoring over 16 books including A History of Modern Indonesia, ca. 1300 to the Present (1993), War, Culture and Economy in Java, 1677–1726: Asian and European Imperialism in the Early Kartasura Period (1993)  and Mystic Synthesis in Java: A History of Islamisation from the Fourteenth to the Early Nineteenth Centuries (2006). His 2012 book Islamisation and its Opponents in Java was the culmination of a three-volume series on the history of the Islamisation of the Javanese – one of the largest ethnic groups in the Islamic world – from the earliest evidence in the 14th century to the present. 

Professor Ricklefs was the recipient of many prestigious awards and honours, including the Centenary Medal by the Government of Australia for service to Australian society and the humanities in 2003, election as an Honorary Member of the Netherlands Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde in 2010, the George McT. Kahin Prize of the Association for Asian Studies in 2015, and Cultural Honours (Penghargaan Kebudayaan) from the Minister of Education and Culture of Indonesia in 2016. In 2017 he was made Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for his significant service to tertiary education, particularly to Asia and Pacific research and scholarship, and to the development of programs for Indigenous students. 

We extend our deepest sympathies to Merle's wife Margaret, and their family, on this great loss.

Vale prepared by Liz Bradtke
Communications & Awards Coordinator