Darren Wan

PhD Candidate


I am a social and legal historian of Southeast Asia. A central question animates my research: How can perspectives from the margins of state power help us rethink political events and concepts?

My dissertation examines how the mid-twentieth-century reconstitution of the six differently administered British colonies in Island Southeast Asia into Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and the Australian Indian Ocean Territories was experienced in the everyday. Entitled Doubtful Claims, Dubious Loyalties: Citizenship, Anticommunism, and the Decolonization of British Southeast Asia, the project focuses on citizenship and statelessness to tell a history of decolonization and the Cold War from the bottom up. Drawing on oral history interviews and archival documents in Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin, Tamil, and English, it explores how working-class racial minorities, who were largely illiterate and poorly documented, articulated claims to belonging when borders were in constant flux, when itinerant people seemed increasingly out of place, and when paper acquired new significance as a medium for claims-making.

My research is supported by the International Dissertation Research Fellowship offered by the Social Science Research Council of the US (SSRC IDRF), the Graduate Research Fellowship granted by the Social Science Research Council of Singapore (SSRC GRF), the American Historical Association, as well as internal grants like the Einaudi Center's Amit Bhatia '01 Global PhD Research Award.

I am also invested in the public humanities. Since 2017, I have been an editor of Mynah, a Singapore-based longform non-profit magazine devoted to telling untold Singaporean stories.

Committee: Eric Tagliacozzo & Durba Ghosh (co-advisors), Natasha Raheja, Sunil Amrith


Peer-reviewed articles

"Witnessing Empire's End: Malayan Refugees' Anticolonial Futures in Wartime India, 1942–45." Journal of Asian Studies 82, no. 4 (2025): forthcoming.

Book reviews

Review of Colonial Bureaucracy and Contemporary Citizenship: Legacies of Race and Emergency in the Former British Empire, by Yael Berda (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022). Law and History Review 41, no. 4 (2023): 849–851. 

Review of Fleeting Agencies: A Social History of Indian Coolie Women in British Malaya, by Arunima Datta (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021). Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 23, no. 3 (2022).

Selected public writing

Sea Change,” Mekong Review 33: 14 (2023).