Geography used to be considered destiny, but this once-popular notion that terrain and climate drove history has gone out of fashion. Now a new generation of environmental historians are bringing hard, physical materiality back into mainstream history with a more nuanced approach, looking at the historically situated interaction between people and their physical environments.

First published in Japanese in 1995 and now in English translation, The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami takes the form of ten short stories linked by a central character, the titular Mr Nishino. Each encapsulates one of ten affairs Nishino conducts through his life ranging from schoolboy romance to extramarital liaisons. Sadly, despite his notable talents as a lothario, Nishino cannot make any of these trysts last.

Even as Singapore marks two hundred years since Englishman Stamford Raffles set up an East India Company factory there, the citystate is promoting another date. In 1299, according to the Malay Annals, a Srivijayan prince, Sri Tri Buana, arrived at the island then known as Temasek and founded Singapura. The motto of the bicentennial is “from Singapore to Singaporean” and the idea is that to understand what it means to be Singaporean today the events from 1299 on needs to be considered. Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore details this story.

More than 70 percent of the thousands of documented migrant workers who depart Indonesia for overseas jobs each year are women. The reason for this remarkable statistic is simple: the well-established demand for Indonesian housemaids in the wealthier countries of the region, particularly Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Around 45 percent of registered foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong are Indonesian; in Singapore the figure is 60 percent.