MICHAEL ROBERTS was trained in history and the social sciences at Peradeniya University in Sri Lanka. This education was in the British empiricist tradition. His initial Ph.D work on agrarian policy took him into intellectual history as well as economic history and political economy. Once he began in the late 1960s to look at the social base of the nationalist movement in British Ceylon, his researches moved him into social history. That is, this involved a study of social mobility and elite formation. This shift was further promoted by his involvement in the interdisciplinary discussions of the Ceylon Studies Seminar at Peradeniya, in which he was key founder. Obeyesekere and friends at the Sociology Department also furthered this transformation.

Moreover, his oral history work among administrators and politicians in the late 1960s provided a foundation for his deepening engagement with the phenomenon of nationalism. These researches crystallised in the monumental four-volume Documents of the Ceylon National Congress (1977, Dept of national archives) and the edited anthology Collective Identities (Marga, 1979).

When he gained an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship to Germany in 1975-76 and then secured a post at the Dept of Anthropology at the University of Adelaide, this process of transformation continued. Teaching anthropology meant studying the subject and gaining awareness of ethnographic field study methodology. Though he never pursued extensive field studies, his researches in effect involved the deciphering of the life ways of the middle classes of modern Sri Lanka. His Caste Conflict and Elite Formation The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 (1982, CUP) is as much a product of Peradeniya as Adelaide, while People Inbetween (Sarvodaya, 1989) is about the middle classes of British Ceylon and the growth of Colombo city to hegemonic status.

When the ethnic conflict within Sri Lanka sharpened after 1983, Roberts’ familiarity with nationalist ideology stood him in good stead; while his anthropological awareness of human relations and inter-personal subjectivity also came in handy. Thus, his recent writings in the 1990s and 2000s have concentrated heavily on ethnic politics in Sri Lanka, both in the British period (for. e. g. studies of Anagarika Dharmapala’s thinking and the 1915 anti-Muslim pogrom) and in contemporary Lanka (Sinhala nationalist writing and the LTTE”s hero rituals). At the same time he has (a) undertaken an excursion into the pre-British era and analysed the political structure and ideological form of the state of Sinhalē in the period 1590s to 1815 and (b) ventured to analyse the politics of cricket in Sri Lanka as well as abroad (see Essaying Cricket, 2006 Vijitha Yapa Publications).

While Roberts can be described as a historical anthropologist, the fact remains that all his work engages the political relations of power and that he straddles the disciplines of Politics, Sociology, Anthropology and History.

40 responses to “About

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  4. you may not remember me, i was a young kid when you played for SAC.

    heard you will be staying with Renton for a few days and told me about your blog.

  5. I never thought that the day would come when a self-proclaimed “Thuppahiya” (sorry Michael, your words not mine!) of such high academic attainment of Oxford U and all that living in Adelaide would have the courage and sincereity to challenge the “secular fundamentalists”, and the Gordon Weisss of this world who consider their UN missions as nothing short of a “calling from God to purify the infidel barbarians” of the tinted skin variety in the world.
    Actually I first read it today when the real Karapothu Lansiya, Emille Van Der Pooten, (presumably a descendent of the Dutch who saw no evil in enslaving and denigration of HRs of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in the vicinity, used to build their Ramparts in Galle) accused you of being a “Rallying Round the Flag, Boy” in the Sunday Rag with a reference to your original article.
    Wel! well!! I remember the days when we younsters used to chant “Michael Roberts, Dum! Dum!! Dum!!!” when you played those boundaries and sixes for our old Alma Mater. Go on Michael, it is time you showed that spirit to these nonentitoies who believe that they got the Googly or the Doosra but can deliver a slow half pitch after an exhausting long run in. Perhaps I may write an article for publication as an onlooker. Any suggested heading for it Michael? Perhaps “Thuppahiya Vs Karapothu Lansiya” by Gamaya?!
    Best wishes

  6. Ahem … would like to contact you on email Mr T. Please let me know your email. Would like to feature you, connect with you if possible: Have just launched a slow journalism website called http://isrilankan.com/ .

  7. David Nollet

    Dear Mr. Roberts,
    I am working as a researcher at CEDOCA, which is the documentation and researchunit of the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons in Belgium (www.cgrs.be). Would it be possible forme to contact you by email? Thank you kindly in advance,
    best regards,

  8. Marcel Bandaranaike

    Michael, your blog is so informative & interesting. Your image takes me back to St Aloysius Galle & drags me through a life time in our “Island in the Sun”.

  9. jay

    how can i contact Mr.Roberts? an email address?

  10. I am compelled to correct Dr. Robert’s etymology of Tuppahi. It is special for me because I am a Tuppahiya as well because my ‘ge’ name says it. Though my father has said that it means ‘interpreter’, I did not know from what Language it came. Then I saw it in a traveler’s Tamil book from 1800s meaning interpreter. So, looking at the mirror, I concluded that indeed I am a descendent of one of those Tamil servants that came with the Portuguese.

    This January, I mentioned this to one of my distant relatives (a ‘white’ Singhalese), a former professor of Singhala at Peradeniya. He gave a very plausible breakdown of the etymology:

    ද්විභාෂික / ද්විභාෂි – Sanskrit
    දුබැසි – Singhala
    තුප්පාසි – Tamil
    තුප්පහි – Singhala

    • Dear AHANGAMA, Both you and Your esteemed Professor friend should read(1) the dictionary HOBSON-JOBSON by Yule and another 1885 and(2) the PRAYOGIKA SINHAL SHABDHA KSHAYA and (3) my opening chapter “PEJORATIVE PHRASES …” in Roberts et al PEOPLE INBETWEEN (1989) … and prhaps all of PIYADASA SIRISENA’s first three novels . Then do write an article on this topic. THEN we can pursue the debate further.

  11. Grace

    Hi Mr. Roberts,

    I am a student from the University of Auckland in New Zealand who is an aspiring refugee lawyer. I have some specific questions regarding the current political situation in Sri Lanka that I would really like to ask you. Please contact me at grace.darkins@gmail.com if you think you would be able to help.

    Thanks in advance,

  12. Hi There,

    I just discovered this blog after doing some research surrounding an article I found in a local Sri Lankan cafe here in Melbourne, Australia. It was titled The Burghers by Percy Colin-Thome. It was an interesting read however as it was only a few photocopied sheets, parts were missing.

    I was wondering where I might be able to find/read the rest of this article.
    Thank you

    • Dr. Ivan Amarasinghe

      MichaelI am surprised that you sent this about Burghers in Sri Lanka out of the blues because it was only a day back I was wondering whether you and/or the Ceylon Burghers can organize a get together of the Burgher expatriates from Galle (and their descendants) in the near future. We can have this on our old Dutch Ramparts. Remindful of the long and very friendly presence of our Burgher community in Galle for over 500 years, it’s about time that we break bread again probably with a Lion Lager! When I go home I see so many Europeans settled down as newcomers along the Hikkaduwa to Weligama coastal areas and villages, I ask myself why can not or would not our hereditary old friends come back to their roots. I always remember with great affection the Kellarts, the Crutchleys, the van Cuylenbergs, van Dorts, van Langenbergs, Fereiras, Bartlets etc. etc. and even the Anglo remnants like the Gibsons. Galle is theirs as much as mine as the traditional homeland. I wish we can all get together again in our beloved Galle before departing for the unknown galaxies in time to come.Say, what do you think of it?Best Ivan

      Date: Fri, 26 Feb 2016 13:15:27 +0000 To: ivanamarasinghe@hotmail.com

      • DEAR IVAN,
        Your warm note is appreciated [but also note that the ITEM you are responding to was/is part of the original presentation way back]. Yes, I love Galle and the Fort in particular. Those of your mid set will also appreciate my sister Norah Roberts’s (long deceased) book GALLE AS QUIET AS ASLEEP, 2005, Yapa Publications, ISBN 955-8095-85 … and you may already have seen the two recent pictorial items: https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/nostalgic-pictorial-excursions-in-and-around-my-galle-fort/ And https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/18609/
        A few diasporic Burghers too are among migrants who have returned and/or invested in Lanka. I have not kept tabs however.
        Please note that our family is not Burgher but rather Kaberi. On one occasion a Burgher girl at St Bridget’s Colombo shied away from one of my sisters and said she did not want to be touched by a Kaberi—so prejudices existed every which way].
        As Kaberi, however, we also fell within the broader denigrated category of “Thuppahi” together with the Burghers of all strands [as well as the Anglicized Sinhalese who were roundly disparaged with this epithet during the 1956 MEP campaign].
        However, your comment “Galle is theirs [Burghers of Galle]as much as mine as the traditional homeland” reveals that your thinking is far removed from that disastrous line of thought. Bravo.
        A grand regathering of Gallians on the fort ramparts. WOW! Do start that ball rolling: you are now it’s ”President” … mahaa sabbaapathi

    • i have only seen this now –24 Feb 2017. I suggest you write to me at mrober137@mail.com[as I cannot see your address — system is defieient OR I am deficient]

  13. Prabhath de Silva

    Dear Dr.Michael Roberts,
    I have read some of your publications. I am the author of the book”Leonard Woolf:ABritish Civil Servant as a Judge in Hamabantota District of Colonial Sri Lanka(1908-1911) published in 1996. I am planning to publish a revised edition soon. I would like to send you a revised draft for your comments. May you send me your e-mail address.
    Prabhath de Silva

  14. Naufel Rahman

    How can I contact Michael Roberts

  15. Ivan Amarasinghe

    Naufel, Good to see that you are trying to contact Michael R. Last time I met you was at the Diyawanna HQ when you were the Maha Mudliyar of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. Hopefully you are now Maha Gate Mudaliyar of the Prime Minister’s office. Isn’t it about time, the ole school friends and the Galle bhumi puthras gather to honour the diaspora eclectics and erudite scholars such as Michael the “Thuppahi” R?
    Incidentally, can you insist on RW not to promote Hambantota as the traditional sea port on the Silk Route but the Galle Port. Is he hedging his bets in case MR returns after the demise of MS or are Chinese hedging their bets?!!

  16. Suramya Kumararatne

    Micheal, Your blog/website is a delight. I had heard of you in my youth , but heard more of you from your younger sister when I was at Wolfson College, Oxford, in the late 1970’s. (She was very proud of you). If Thuppahi, means mixed race, in the era of genetic studies, I think everyone living in our homeland will be found to be quite an achcharu of the groups that arrived in that tropical isle.

    • Thank you SURAMYA.It is pure chance that I have seen your comment , I am in Adelaide and my email address = mrober137@mail.com
      While I agree with your political stance, the problem is that one’s DNA is not seLf-evident and does not inform SUBJECTIVITY or SOCIAL INTERACTION.
      If you have time, look over my recent article on NAMO NAMO and the rejection of the position by SENAKA WEERARATNE.

  17. Chris Rezel

    Dear Michael

    I am interested to know what the shortcomings are in Sri Lanka’s Sept. 1978 constitution that the Tamil population wants rectified.
    What changes / inclusions are being asked for?
    Would greatly welcome any article that you may have already written on the subject.
    Thanks and regards
    Christopher Rezel

    • Sorry Christopher –not my field. May i use this site to ask others to send suitable references. I will also ask some pals tosend me and CHRIS appropriate items by email.

  18. I recently came across G. C. Mendis’s ‘Problems of Sri Lankan History’ and was particularly impressed by it.
    Then, I wanted to do some more research on the author and found two informative articles online both penned by you. One is published in 2014 in this blog and another in The Island 2016.
    I would like to use them for an article about the doctor in Wikipedia since no details about him can be found there; so details about the eminent scholar and his contributions will be available in public domain. Wander whether I could use your article in this blog without any copyright issue?

  19. Tove Rauscher

    Dear Professor Roberts,
    I am a professional picture researcher, right now working on a book about the Bloomsbury Group. I am very interested in a photo of Leonard Woolf you posted on November 20, 2016 in an article on a book by Prabath de Silva (the very first in the article). I have unfortunately not been able to find a copy of the book and wonder if you might be able to tell me where the photo might be from? I would be most grateful for any help!

    With my very best regards,
    Tove Rauscher

  20. Kate Tarrant

    Dear Mr Roberts
    I was wondering if you might be able to contact me please, regarding your family history as I believe we may have a common ancestor/ you might be able to help with one of my ancestors who may have been linked to you.
    Many thanks for your time reading this,
    Look forward to hearing from you.

  21. Sachi Sri Kantha

    Hello Dr. Michael Roberts,
    Greetings from Japan. I’m now 66. You are senior to me, in the academic ladder at the University of Peradeniya, in late 1970s. May I know, your date of birth, or at least year of birth? Wonder why you had hidden it? Was it by design or accident?
    My query is related to a compilation of 20th century Sri Lankan Historians/Anthropologists.
    Best regards.
    Sachi Sri Kantha

  22. Charles

    Dear Prof Roberts,

    My wife grew up in her grandfather’s exceedingly large house on Baseline Road in Colombo. The house was nationalized by Sirimavo’s government. It once stood where the Ceypetco building is (beside the flyover). I am hoping that you would have some suggestions on how I might go about finding some photographs of the old house.

    I am very grateful for any help which you might be able to give me.

    With kind regards,

  23. Cassim Rahuman

    My sister Yasmin Azad [nee Abdul Rahuman, of Fort, Galle] now living in Boston has published a book ‘Stay, Daughter’ which you might be interested to read. She was a student of Prof Halpe and I [old Aloysian] did Engineering at Peradeniya. Our mother’s uncle and father of Nilam Magdon whom you might remember was well known lawyer Mr Zain Magdon Ismail.

    Could you please let me know how I might get a copy of the book across to you. I might be able to send it through a friend travelling to Australia or post it direct from here. If convenient for you I could also deliver the book to a contact person of yours in Colombo.

    Kind Regards – Bunchy Rahuman

  24. Jodie McCallum

    Thank you so much for your article “The ‘Devonshire’ reaches Queensland with 500 ‘Cingalese’ Coolies in 1882“ As a direct descendant of Kalu Appoo and Sara Wanigetunga I was overjoyed to learn more of their story and now have a better understanding why they came to settle in Queensland where my family and I still live.

  25. Akshitha Anantharajasingam

    Great Blog

  26. Dear Mr. Roberts. I came across your interviews with my grandfather Sir Richard Aluwihare. Quite fascinating. Trying to get transcripts for the later tapes, only #1 has a transcript that I can find.
    Perhaps we can chat? you could email me directly, i too live in Australia

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