The Indian Ocean in History

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSLS2HS2034

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon 2018

Course Coordinator and Team: Paulami Guha Biswas

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: None

Aim The course will employ a world historical approach from the vantage point of the sea and its coasts to destabilize traditional land-centric and nation-state approaches to understanding the human past. We will examine historical connections in the Indian Ocean and around its shores across the sweep of global history, sailing across time in a thematic rather than a chronological fashion. The course will focus on the western Indian Ocean and how contacts between places like India, Arabia, and eastern Africa have shaped the lives of people who live near the sea and whose existence is affected by the rhythms of the monsoon. Through their interactions, different groups of people facilitated the circulation of goods and ideas, giving rise to a common cosmopolitan culture recognisable throughout the maritime region. It is also important to note that it is impossible to conceive of contemporary India without considering the historical impact of the subcontinent’s connections to its larger oceanic region, and even in landlocked Delhi traces of this transnational past remain evident today.

Course Outcomes: Onsuccessful completion the course will help in:

  1. Questioning the traditional notions of nation-centric and land-centric histories.
  2. Comparing the history of Indian Ocean with that of the Pacific and the Atlantic.
  3. Learning about the role of African, Arabic and Middle Eastern people in the socio-economic and political history of India.
  4. Focusing on the history of islands as a separate genre.
  5. Learning about the notions of piracy and slavery and placing them in a global context.
  6. Placing Indian Ocean in the context of globalization, connected histories, histories of mobility and circulation in a broad sense.
  7. Learning how the history of land is often determined by the history of a sea.
  8. Studying the presence of Indian Ocean in the folklore, epics, local cultures and literary traditions in India.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules

  1. Introduction to the Course and the Indian Ocean
  2. The Early Indian Ocean World (IOW) and the Rise of Islam
  3. A Merchant, Slave, and Anthropologist in/of the Early IOW
  4. The Contemporary Indian Ocean World: An “Antique Land”?
  5. The Arrival of Europeans, Empire, and Resistance in the Indian Ocean
  6. Transnationalism, Theory, and Historiography of the IOW
  7. Sailors and Life at Sea in the Indian Ocean World
  8. Cosmopolitan Indian Ocean Port Towns
  9. Pirates in the Indian Ocean World, Past & Present
  10. Slaves, Labor, and the African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean
  11. South Asian Diasporas across the Indian Ocean
  12. Indian Ocean World Diasporas in Africa
  13. Cultural Studies of the Indian Ocean
  14. The Future of the Indian Ocean World

Assessment Details with weights

  1. Take-home assignment 1 (mid September): 25%
  2. Class presentation of assignment 1 (end September): 10%
  3. Thought piece 1 (mid August): 10%
  4. Thought piece 2 (mid September): 10%
  5. Take-home assignment 2 (end October): 25%
  6. Thought piece 3 (mid October): 10%
  7. Thought piece 4 (mid November): 10%
  8. Total: 100%

Essential Readings

  1. Pearson, Michael, The Indian Ocean, Routledge, 2003.
  2. Kaplan, Robert D., “Center Stage for the 21st Century,” in Foreign Affairs, March/April 2009.
  3. Vink, Markus P. M., “Indian Ocean Studies and the ‘New Thalassology’”, in Journal of Global History, Vol. 2, Issue 1, March 2007, pp. 41-62.
  4. Ghosh, Amitav, In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler’s Tale, Ravi Dayal Publishers, 1992.
  5. Metcalf, Thomas R., Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860-1920, University of California Press, 2007.
  6. Bose, Sugata, A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire, Harvard University Press, 2006.
  7. Das Gupta, Ashin and M. N. Pearson, India and the Indian Ocean 1500-1800, Oxford University Press, 1987.
  8. Pearson, Michael, et. al., Eyes Across the Water: Navigating the Indian Ocean, Unisa Press, 2010.

Additional Reference

  1. Campbell, Gwyn, The Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia, Routledge, 2003.
  2. Alpers, E. A., “The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean: A Comparative Perspective,” in Shihan De S. Jayasuriya & Richard Pankhurst, The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean, Africa World Press, 2003.
  3. Risso, Patricia, “Cross-Cultural Perceptions of Piracy: Maritime Violence in the Western Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf Region During a Long Eighteenth Century,” in Journal of World History, Vol. 12, No. 2, Fall 2001, pp. 293-319.
  4. McPherson, Kenneth, “Port Towns as Nodal Points of Change: The Indian Ocean, 1890s-1920s,” in C. A. Bayly and L. T. Fawaz, Modernity and Culture: From the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, Columbia University Press, 2002.
  5. Moon, Karen, “Streetscapes and Buildings: The Architecture of Dar es Salaam”, in Markes, Sarah and Lisa M. Burgess, Street Level: A Collection of Drawings and Creative Writing Inspired by Dar es Salaam, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, 2011.
  6. Gregory, Robert G., South Asians in East Africa: An Economic and Social History, 1890- 1980, Westview Press, 1993.
  7. Vassanji, M. G., The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, Doubleday Canada, 2003.
  8. Fair, Laura, “Making Love in the Indian Ocean: Hindi Films, Zanzibari Audiences, and the Construction of Romance in the 1950s and 1960s,” in Jennifer Cole and Lynn M. Thomas, Love in Africa, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  9. Muecke, Stephen, “What Makes a Carpet Fly? Cultural Studies in the Indian Ocean,” in Transforming Cultures (eJournal), November 2008.
  10. Ho, Engseng, “Empire through Diasporic Eyes: A View from the Other Boat,” in Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 46, Issue 2, April 2004, pp. 210-246.