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Level 5

5AAH1072 The Worlds of the Indian Ocean

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutorDr Berenice Guyot-Rechard
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2 hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 1,500 word formative essay, 1 x 3,000 word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Assessment pre 2019/20: 2 x 2,500 word essay (50% each)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

Beginning in the third millennium BCE when the Indus Valley Civilisation started trading with Mesopotamia, the Indian Ocean has historically played a central role in connecting ideas, people, polities, goods and cultures across ostensibly far flung places—from Arabia and eastern Africa to India, China or Southeast Asia. The wealth present along its rim and the trade networks crisscrossing it were arguably unsurpassed for much of human history. This module offers an overview of the history of the Indian Ocean from ancient times till the 21st century. Chronologically, particular emphasis will be put on the role of Islam and Muslim traders in the making of Indian Ocean worlds, on the era following European intervention in the region in the 16th century, and on the reconfiguration of oceanic space since 1945.

At the core of the module lie the constitution, adaptation and reconfiguration of the region’s extensive maritime networks—networks at once political, economic, ideological, cultural, or migratory. How and why did people move across the ocean? What technological, political, economic, or environmental conditions enabled this long-distance travel? What goods were being transported? How did interaction and exchange shape societies on the Indian Ocean littoral? What role did ideas and ideologies play in the making of Indian Ocean worlds? What was the balance between conflict and accommodation in this interaction? What did it feel like to be a sailor, a pirate, a merchant, a pilgrim, an envoy, a migrant, or a slave on an Indian Ocean dhow?  And last but not least, can we think of the Indian Ocean as a unified space, beyond today’s geographical understandings?

By reflecting upon these questions, this module seeks not only to stress the Indian Ocean’s importance in history, but also to introduce you to a different way of approaching world history. To do so, we will engage with historiography and study a great variety of sources – from poetry and music to physical objects, paintings and travellers’ accounts. Through various activities and assignments, the course will not just hone your analytical and argumentative skills, but also develop your imagination and creativity and literary expression.

Provisional Teaching Plan

  1. The oldest part of the world
  2. A integrated world of trade and exchange
  3. An “Islamic sea”
  4. The arrival of Europeans
  5. The making of a “British Lake”
  6. Mobility, migration and diaspora in the age of colonialism
  7. Universalisms and cosmopolitanism:
  8. Anti-colonial nationalisms
  9. The Indian Ocean since 1945
  10. The Indian Ocean as method?

Suggested introductory reading 

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory

Pearson, Michael, The Indian Ocean (London and New York: Routledge, 2003).

Students may be asked to purchase Michael Person’s The Indian Ocean (see core reading) as a textbook (approx. 28GBP).

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