Delving into history, Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz's book, 'Asian Place, Filipino Nation' is the product of her continuing thirst for knowledge

Is Philippine history important to you? For Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz, the answer is a firm yes. Currently, a research fellow at Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge, Aboitiz has spent much of her life as a student, and it's something she reveals she immensely enjoys. "I just want to be a student forever," she smiles. "And I want to use my brain in a way that is oriented towards my intellectual projects. I have big questions I want to ask of the world, and history was the most natural way to pose them because, for me, it's tough to understand anything if you don't understand the history of it."

Splitting her time between Siargao, Manila and Cambridge in the UK, Aboitiz has found a passion in exploring—and furthering the study of—her native Philippines. Her 2020 book Asian Place, Filipino Nation frames the Philippine revolution through an often overlooked lens.

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"I'm looking at the Asian context to Philippine history, and I think that's very important because our worldview, for various reasons, has been biased toward the west. And I think a profound and important Asian and Malay context to our history has been sidelined. Our understanding of our history and ourselves is incomplete if we ignore other frameworks."

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Asian Place, Filipino Nation (Photo from Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz/Twitter)
Above Asian Place, Filipino Nation (Photo from Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz/Twitter)

Published by Columbia University Press, her book ingeniously "charts turn-of-the-twentieth century Filipino thinkers' and revolutionaries' constructions of 'place', political organising, and proto-national thought". Asian Place, Filipino Nation may come off as intimidating for laymen who have yet to dip their toes into such historical topics.

Still, for many students, Aboitiz's perspective fills a vacuum in scholarly thinking—one that puts Filipino history in a more native framework.

Read more: The Interesting History Behind Our Proud Philippine Flag

Self-motivated and passionate about history, Aboitiz also reveals that her research methods come with difficulties—and even a bit of irony. "[I] work entirely alone. I don't collaborate with anyone; essentially, I'm on my own," she shares. On the other hand, she also acknowledges that she is "completely reliant on a community of scholars". "They sort of keep you in check and also keep you sharp. [The way academia operates, it] checks your analysis and your biases, your assumptions," she expounds.

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And after stints at some of the most impressive Ivy League universities—including Harvard and Yale—Aboitiz shares that though it's difficult, the learnings are very much rewarding, especially as her research speciality strikes close to home. "[At some point in my life], I was contemplating living my life abroad, and I wanted to sort of return to the region of Southeast Asia in a powerful way while being abroad. And so doing a DPhil in Southeast Asian history was the deepest way I could imagine of doing that."

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Taking her learnings and building on them, Aboitiz now serves as a conduit between the past and the present. "History is not chismis [gossip], she asserts. "As a scholar and historian, I believe in a kind of empiricism [that] certain things did happen. [And it is] my job to defend that kind of empiricism. [In that way], historical revisionism is a critical aspect to historical scholarship because our interpretations change all the time about what happened; however, the facts do not change." So, while the historian does spend a significant portion of her year abroad, she is aware of the current situation in the Philippines, where disinformation and historical revisionism run rampant online.


See more honourees from the Philippines on the Gen.T List 2022.

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