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Teaching the Indian Ocean as World History

Thomas Anderson


     World history is a rich field to teach. Yet its array of topics, examples, and breadth can be overwhelming. I tell my students that the course is not about explaining all of the history of the world, but rather understanding how interconnected the world's peoples, societies, and states have been. But to best tell this story requires appropriate lessons that can illuminate the ebbs and flows of World History. Often overlooked, the history of the Indian Ocean provides a way to help meet this challenge.

     Historically, the Indian Ocean lay at the center of much of World History.1 Its history spans from ancient to modern times with its trade routes and exchange of cultures, religions, and peoples providing an important connection from East Asia to East Africa. Buddhism and Islam spread along trade paths and became incorporated into local belief systems. Merchants traded a vast array of goods including luxury items such as Chinese silks and porcelains, Southeast Asian spices, and Indian textiles and pepper fueling a dynamic economic engine that funded powerful city-states and empires. Further, incorporating the history of the Indian Ocean into our surveys provides a way to explain the global development of European states and peoples in an organic way by evaluating their entry into a complex, cosmopolitan world and then analyzing the trajectory of the choices and interactions of European actors in this system. As such, it avoids a linear approach to European expansion and instead offers a more fluid and complex story of how some European actors rose to political or economic power. When we teach the Indian Ocean as part of World History we can provide a more varied comprehension of the emergence of a modern, globalized world while providing concrete examples of the concepts in World History, particularly its exchanges, networks, and patterns.

I. Patterns and Exchanges

One of the defining characteristics of World History has been its examination of long term patterns. Yet the scale of patterns can create the problem of how to locate or keep the local in a study that examines the aggregate. The very nuance of historical explanation can be lost, particularly when attempting to provide suitable teaching examples for students. Works in Indian Ocean studies contribute to world historical patterns and can help us develop our lesson plans through a more global framework. Indeed, the Indian Ocean has a long history, spanning at least two thousand years providing the space for various patterns to emerge yet at the same time showing how these patterns influenced exchanges and connections on a more confined level.

     The environment played a powerful role in the development of the Indian Ocean world, an importance reflected in the general works on the field.2 The rhythmic patterns of the monsoon season dictated the flow of trade, migration, and cultural practices throughout the region. Since trade went in one direction for a half a year only to reverse, it created the need accommodate layovers for traders including a credit system and semi-permanent trading communities. The predictability of seasonal winds and the exchange of nautical knowledge influenced ship design and construction, such as the lateen sail or sewn hulls (rather than nails), as well as facilitated the rise of expert pilots to navigate from port to port.3 Still, the dangers of the sea and vast distances involved permeated maritime life and wove their way into the stories and myths of the Indian Ocean such as Sinbad the Sailor.4

     Once established as a defining characteristic of how the Indian Ocean operated, other environmental factors can be taught as well. For example, Mike Davis offers an excellent analysis of the intersection of the monsoon droughts and imperial policies. Focusing on the El Nino created droughts of the late 19th century, Davis argues that the famines that ensued in East Africa and India were not just part of a larger environmental pattern occurring in China and Brazil, but also part of British imperial policies that developed an infrastructure that best suited its needs and often neglected the people, such as supplying grain to a global market at a particular price instead of being distributed to alleviate famine.5

     Over the past few years, migration has demonstrated the power of World History by linking large scale patterns of human movement to more localized effects of cultural exchange and historical change. Migration can explain the origins of a people in a particular locale. For example, Austronesian peoples migrated from Indonesia across the Indian Ocean and settled in East Africa as well as the islands of the Western Indian Ocean, most notably Madagascar. With them went their language and cultural practices such as farming techniques or religious practices. On Madagascar, Austronesian migration blended with migration from East Africa to produce the unique Malagasy culture. However, Austronesian peoples were only part of a series of waves of peoples who traveled and migrated across the Indian Ocean, often establishing and then developing trade routes.6 Indeed, much of the dynamism of the Indian Ocean existed because of the migrations of different peoples who shared languages, customs, religions, as well as technologies and trade goods. As such, migration contributed to the formation of cosmopolitan and interconnected communities across the Indian Ocean world and that have become one of its defining characteristics.

     In his work on the Malagasy diaspora, Pier Larson argues that Madagascar played a central role in the movement of peoples and their identities in the western Indian Ocean because of the large number of Malagasy slaves exported from their home. By examining the influence of Malagasy culture through the dominance of language, the Malagasy people retained a strong ethnic identity even as they influenced their new cultures and societies they found themselves in. Indeed, language allowed Malagasy to communicate with other isolated Malagasy communities or individuals across the western Indian Ocean. Instead of viewing African languages as subservient to European in the formation of a creole language, Larson argues that for many Malagasy became the dominant tongue, with other language groups adapting to it, including at times Europeans.7

     In forced migration, slavery offers an illuminating example of how the Indian Ocean arena operates as World History as well as providing an added dimension to the field. Transatlantic slavery has provided one of the underlining structures to the Atlantic World, offering studies that transcend national and local barriers and provide a richer understanding of the complex interconnectedness of societies and peoples. Yet as much as this has enriched our understanding of the dynamics and contributions of peoples across a wide range of space, it has tended to dominate our discussion of slavery. Indian Ocean slavery, however, was in some ways a much different phenomenon.

     Indian Ocean slavery was quite diverse and multifaceted, embodying many different peoples and societies as well as definitions. Indeed, the very complexity of who constituted a slave and their role in a slave owning or trading society remains an intriguing and relevant topic of debate among scholars. As far back as the Indian Ocean system can be studied, slavery appears to have been a component. Further, slavery in the Indian Ocean was multidirectional, with slaves exported and imported from multiple places, including East Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Arab city-states, and Southeast Asia. With such diversity, who was a slave and what role that slave played in society varied, ranging from domestic servants and fields hands to merchants, concubines, soldiers, or government officials.8

     The cosmopolitan and diverse experiences of slaves offer rich topics for discussion about the meaning of slavery itself. There remains enough continuity among these types to define slavery as the status of a person as owned property. Yet exactly what it meant to be owned is open to debate, particularly since the legal rights and individual experiences differ markedly from the plantation slavery of the Atlantic world, offering students a more nuanced understanding of the subject. Indeed, how slaves entered a status of legal property complicates the discussion as it could range from captures in war to self-imposed debt bondage. The majority of slaves in the Indian Ocean were women and children and most were engaged in tasks and jobs other than plantation work. Further, most had legal rights, such as marriage or property. The story of Abraham Bin Yiju and his slave Boma, who conducted large scale trades far away from home on behalf of his master, as told by Amtiav Ghosh in his classic work, In an Antique Land, provides a wonderful narrative of the influence, even freedom, that a slave could possess in the Indian Ocean.9 Larger systems were important in maintaining these legal rights across a large space, such as Islamic legal traditions, which provided for a set way of dealing with slaves, including manumission. These rights and definitions of slavery only seem paradoxical because of how transatlantic slavery has dominated our perceptions of an ancient and widespread institution. Further, even as scholarship expands, Richard Allen reminds us that much more and interesting work remains in studying the dynamics of South and Southeast Asian slavery more fully.10 Instead of confusion, the complexity of Indian Ocean slavery reminds us of how we need to broaden our perspective in understanding the role of slavery in World History.

     The spread of peoples, voluntary and forced, was often stimulated by trade. Indeed, the Indian Ocean offers excellent examples of ancient long distance trade. Cowrie shells were exported from the Maldive islands as commodity goods as well as a form of money throughout the Indian Ocean world and beyond, including interior China where archeological digs have unearthed cowrie shells from over 3000 years ago. Unique and immune to counterfeiting, cowrie shells operated as currency for small daily transactions in many areas of India, southeast Asia, China, and East Africa. As the use of cowries grew, they began to operate as a "universal currency" allowing traders and travelers to engage with local markets in a more direct, sustained fashion.11 Beyond cowries, documents such as the Periplus of the Erythaean Sea reveal the ancient global reach of the Indian Ocean trading system, with its detailed descriptions of traders from the Roman world operating in the port cities of east Africa and India and importing luxury goods including ivory, frankincense, cinnamon, and other spices.12 The inclusion of the Roman Empire as well as the Mediterranean world into the Indian Ocean offers added insight into just how globalized these ancient trading systems were at times.13

     Although state powers waxed and waned, trade possessed a continuity to it that led to the development of trading systems that incorporated cultural exchange and dialogue. Although certain luxury goods traveled great distances across the Indian Ocean world, most goods, as well as merchants, did not. Because of the monsoon winds, a rhythm emerged to the seasons of trade that facilitated the need for a system that incorporated the widespread use of credit and interacting with a mixture of traders. In his seminal work, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History, Philip Curtain argued that trade diasporas were the products of and contributed to cross-cultural trade. Diasporas were trading communities where merchants settled down in foreign areas, learning the language, customs, and trade practices of these new places while maintaining contacts with their home community, thus facilitating long distance trade. As these communities grew, they remained interconnected with their home community and other diaspora communities, further stimulating trade.14 While scholars have discussed to what degree the term diaspora should be used, debating if it can analytically explain the emergence of these communities as well how distinctive they remained versus to what extent they were absorbed, the idea behind the term, of cosmopolitan trading communities with vibrant networks that circulated people, resources, information, and goods, remains valid and a key component of the Indian Ocean world.15

     One prominent example can be found on the eastern coast of Africa where by the 10th century a robust trading community had emerged under the Swahili. African in origin, the Swahili people carved out a maritime community from global trading contacts that not only tied them into the Indian Ocean economic system, but also forged a new common culture that incorporated a mixture of ideas from afar. The Swahili adopted Islam, and incorporated into their Bantu based language many Arabic words as well as an Arabic writing script. Indeed, their clothing, architecture, and other cultural practices reflect a cosmopolitan heritage.16

     The Swahili operated as middlemen for a vast trading network that linked Central Africa with the ports of the Indian Ocean. They controlled access to both the hinterland and maritime goods and archeological evidence has revealed how their towns were built around this premise. With a mosque at the center and often stone walls to protect these coastal centers from raids, many buildings also had additional rooms built on to them to accommodate guests. A trader would come and stay with a family during the duration of his trip, often returning to the same family season after season and conducting trade with that family. Often traders married into these families, cementing the economic alliance, usually through temporary marriages. Finally, since the Swahili linked the African interior with the wider Indian Ocean they provided opportunities for not just goods but also peoples and ideas to circulate.17

     The Swahili coast emerged from the exchanges of Indian Ocean trade, particularly from sustained contact with Muslim merchants. Although the rapid spread of Islam is often told through its westward expansion toward Spain and the emergence of Islamic empires in the Middle East, it moved through the Indian Ocean world as well. Islam often followed existing trade networks, and Muslim communities can be found not just along the Swahili coast in East Africa, but also in Indian and Chinese port cities as early as the 8th century.18 Eventually, Islam became a robust presence throughout the Indian Ocean world's trading networks and port cities. Such expansion of Islam allows us to tell its story in a more nuanced way.

     Often merchants stimulated conversions to Islam, winning over other traders through pragmatic economic benefits such as tax structures and trade contacts, particularly to lucrative trade routes, or through simple daily persuasion.19 Conversions were limited at first but Islam gained converts over the next few centuries and the constant interaction between traders, pilgrims, and scholars helped to keep fledging Muslim communities in contact with each other.20 Indeed, we can see evidence of these connections through the example of the call to prayer where in Aden the names of Indian political leaders were named, acknowledging on some level the connection between them.21 With tens of thousands or more Muslims traveling to Mecca annually, the hajj operated not only as a religious center, but also as a broader focal point of exchange for the Indian Ocean world. Between Mecca and Jidda, Muslims from across the Islamic world interacted, discussing politics and culture, trading goods including spices, textiles, coffee, and Chinese porcelain, and unintentionally transmitting diseases.22 Still, despite Islam's pervasiveness, Muslims often remained minorities in much of the Indian Ocean region. Through these details, however, we can explore a more complicated version of Islam that emphasizes its cosmopolitan quality: Muslims were not just Arabs, but a motley mix of Arabs, east Africans, Gujaratis, Persians, Chinese, and more.

     As Islam spread, it brought with it not just a common religious belief or set of cultural practices, but also a common language, legal system, and monetary policy that allowed even non-Muslims to participate. The heavy emphasis on law and its interpretation in Islam provided a rich legal system that traders could draw upon that was both familiar and stable. Disputes over ship losses, currency valuations, or other contracts could be administered and judged by a Muslim legal scholar.23 While Ibn Battuta offers the most famous example of how a Muslim could travel throughout the Indian Ocean and through language and training in Islamic law find not just hospitality, but also a job as a qadi, or judge, even non-Muslims often employed these courts and navigated this system.24 The knowledge of how a contract would be interpreted and upheld brought security in a region where months of waiting on the right monsoon season to ship or deliver merchandise was commonplace.25

II. Port Cities

Yet in many ways, it was the port city that defined the Indian Ocean and offers a microcosm of the global ideas and benefits it brings to World History. Ports littered the Indian Ocean littoral, including Surat, Calicut, Aceh, Mocha, Cape Town, Hormuz, and Basra.26 Port cities offer an excellent example of how local conditions interacted with the wider world in a single setting. It was in the port city where networks and exchanges operated, where goods were traded, where peoples discussed politics, religion, and daily life, and where ties to other ports were sustained.

     Michael Pearson has defined port cities as not simply urban spaces next to the sea, but as those places defined and dominated by the interactions of the port and its harbor rather than connections to the interior.27 Indian Ocean studies has worked with other maritime fields to detail the elaborate cosmopolitan quality of many of these port cities, which were defined by a fluid and steady exchange of peoples, ideas, and goods. As such, to define a port city simply through its hinterland or even a political state that may have governed it misses the very quality that breathed life into the city. Indeed, it was the movement of peoples, from migrants to slaves to laborers, that not only defined the port city, but also offer us a way to analyze the adaptation of peoples and the creation of new ideas and cultures. Indeed, even "secondary cities," ports of lesser size and magnitude, fulfilled this function of tapping into the networks of Indian Ocean trade and tying these cities as well as the smaller villages and hinterland around them, to the major ports and Indian Ocean.28 Further, McPherson reminds us that European empires began to establish themselves in ports first, then moved inland in many instances, offering another vantage point to examine the change that European empires brought as well as their limitations and extent they were influenced by local ideas.29

     Location and how a port attracted trade were essential to its success. In the case of Aden, Margariti argues that the port emerged as a powerful and affluent trading center because it took conscious steps to lure Indian Ocean trade into its port rather than its competitors. A robust infrastructure for trading and exchanging goods, a system to insure merchandise and ships, as well as a haven of supplies and expertise for ship repair made Aden a formidable port city, particularly from the 10th through 13th centuries. Aden's stability combined with its location to connect trade of the Indian Ocean trade with the Red Sea and Mediterranean trading world. Just as useful, Margariti shows us glimpses of further global connections, such as her examples of the high number of Jewish merchants in the port with ties to India as well as the Mediterranean, and the constant inflow of timber supplies from East Africa to keep Aden's ship repair center operating.30 Aden's customhouse supported a range of different peoples trading with each other, and in the case of Islam we can find a large network of Muslim communities connected to the port despite geographical location or state affiliation.31

     We can find a similar dynamic in the Chinese port city of Quanzhou, reminding us that Chinese empires and their port cities were entwined within the mechanics of the Indian Ocean world.32 Following the ebb and flow of the city, John Chaffee argues that its ties to the wider Indian Ocean trade networks beginning in the 10th century were crucial to the city's success as it tied into a diverse trade network and its own migrant community swelled, as evident by the number of Muslims, Tamil Hindus, and others within the city. Indeed, the port grew rapidly in size to several hundred thousand to perhaps a million people by the 11th century, its success driven by private trade and profits which had some degree of state support. It was only during the Ming period, when trade was restricted and redirected to other ports that Quanzhou declined in relative importance.33 Instead of viewing Chinese empires as insulated, ports such as Quanzhou remind us how the Chinese economy actively participated with the dynamics of the Indian Ocean world.

     On the east African coast, the port of Kilwa dominated regional commerce. By the 11th century, Muslim merchants directed a flourishing trade with ivory, slaves, and particularly gold leaving the East African coast and luxury goods such as porcelain, jewelry, and textiles imported in return. Indeed, prior to the 15th century, Kilwa operated as an entrepot, surviving on its trade and the number of Chinese goods found at archeological digs in Kilwa only accentuates the vibrancy and reach of Indian Ocean trade. Even the famed Ibn Battuta traveled to Kilwa, drawn to the port by its reputation for affluence due its control of the gold trade as well as the port’s participation in the wide networks of Muslim merchants and rulers. Finally, the city’s vibrant economy left the port vulnerable to the spread of spread of Bubonic plague as it traveled across trade routes during the mid to late 14th century, weakening the port’s economy and political structure.34

     As a final example, Melaka served as a major entrepot during the 15th and 16th centuries when it dominated the Indian Ocean trade, particularly the flow of spices. Melaka operated as an open, free market, welcoming a vast array of traders. As with so many ports in southeast Asia, Melaka survived off trade and charged a customs duty on all goods aboard a ship before allowing those merchants to trade. Records indicate this ranged from 3–6% of the value of the goods. And while Islam was the official religion, there was a diverse mix of peoples: Gujaratis, Tamils, Chinese, Arabs, Javanese, as well as others were all found in large numbers. Indeed, the Portuguese trader Tome Pires marveled at the "84 tongues" found in the city. By the time the Portuguese took over the city in 1511, the city had over 100 000 people.35 Still, as a port there was nothing remarkable about Melaka, except for its success. Melaka successfully interacted with powerful empires; its power grew from its ability to leverage the arrival of Chinese traders with Zheng He's treasure fleets at the start of the 15th century. After a century of autonomy, the Portuguese seized the city by force, at once changing its makeup with the flight of many traders, particularly Muslims. As Melaka diminished in power, its story reveals the state of European actors who had to learn to adapt even as they attempted to balance religious zeal and violence with profit and local cooperation.36

III. European Involvement

With a broad understanding of the Indian Ocean world in place we can incorporate European actors, view them to start as marginal factors in this complex historical arena, and slowly chart their progress as we tell our students the story. And even as Europeans through an erratic ebb and flow came to influence enormous economic and political power over parts of the Indian Ocean world, this remained a contested and negotiated way of life, highly dependent upon the local for resources, knowledge, and personnel to function.37

     Wealth, particularly spices, drew Europeans into the rich markets of the Indian Ocean world. We tend to view European entry as quickly dominating the Indian Ocean, forgetting the difficulties and challenges and ignoring the success of local actors. It does seem that the systemic use of violence by agents of the state, ranging from ship based cannon to the tortures many Europeans inflicted on captured enemies, was novel to a system based on openness to trade and where states were often absent from the sea routes.38 This is not to say that violence was nonexistent, and the presence of piracy underscores one of the many dangers of trading in the Indian Ocean.39 But it does complicate our understanding. Further, European power was often confined to the sea, and even then could by stymied, such as with Ottoman naval squadrons preventing Portuguese access into the Red Sea during the sixteenth century.40 Ultimately, state violence and the advantage it gave Western actors in some arenas was mitigated by their meager resources and personnel as well as their constant need to negotiate.

     The attempt by the Portuguese and later the Dutch to control the spice trade offers revealing examples. The demand for spices provided one of the main drives for the Portuguese to sail around Africa and enter the Indian Ocean world. While essential to understanding European involvement, this often skews our understanding of the spice trade. Yes, European merchants who returned home during the 16th and 17th centuries could make profits of several hundred percent or more off of the spice in their holds, but most of the spices, even when the trade became dominated by the Dutch, remained within Asia. Indian city-states continued to consume spice in enormous quantities, yet they were outstripped by China. Even during the height of the VOC much of the trade within the Indian Ocean remained carried by ships staffed and owned by Indians, some of whom amassed enormous fortunes.41 By remembering that the spice trade became global, even as it remained centered in the Asian world, we provide a more balance and nuanced picture. Further, the spice trade receded in total importance with the rise of mass commodities such as textiles, particularly Indian cotton, and the distribution of global cash crops, including sugar, coffee, tobacco, and tea among others, providing another example to explain the changes in the world's economy brought about by cash crops and the rise of a consumer culture.42

     Even as Europeans participated in the spice trade and developed trading companies their success relied upon their interaction with local peoples. The Portuguese Empire and later the Dutch East India Company (VOC) relied heavily upon local labor to build and staff their forts and ships, and to serve as translators and traders. Indeed, even in Portuguese Goa or Dutch Batavia Europeans remained a distinct numerical minority of less than 10% of the total population; in most other places it was far less.43 In a landmark study, Jean Gelman Taylor argued that the social world of Batavia was a fusion of different cultures and where local women, who historically played a large role in the local economies, continued to wield influence over their Dutch husbands and families. Southeast Asian women's knowledge of the local markets, and the languages and customs, were only part of their importance. Given the high death rate due to disease, southeast Asian women often outlived Dutch men, and prominent widows often amassed wealth and maintained valuable connections between their Dutch and Asian kin. Despite legal attempts to prevent it, a creole society developed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries where children often learned Malay as their first language, Asian food dominated, and Asian garb, rather than European, was the norm.44

     Instead of sheer domination or imposing their will or morals, Europeans contributed to the cosmopolitan quality of the Indian Ocean through cultural creation. In Creating the Creole Island, Megan Vaughan reveals the complexities of the emergence of a French colonial plantation system in the Indian Ocean world, and reminds us how multicultural identities at times emerged from painful experiences. While the infusion of slaves from the same areas of Africa allowed for some degree of cultural continuity on Mauritius, in many ways a new cultural identity was imposed upon African slaves because of the demands and rigors of a plantation style life. The use of indentured labor from India with the end of slavery and the British taking position of the island during the nineteenth century only complicated this process. Vaughan provides a window into some of the daily difficulties slaves endured as she successfully demonstrates the pain that the creation of a multicultural identity can bring to individuals.45

     Europeans contributed to the global dynamic of the Indian Ocean in other ways as well. For example, European trading and settlement increased the types and velocity of migration. In her work on the Dutch East Trading Company, Kerry Ward argues that imperial networks defined the VOC in the Indian Ocean region as it had to constantly negotiate with its subjects and local peoples. It was these networks of people that provided the flow of information, trading knowledge, labor, and even legal status of people within the VOC's "empire." With colonies on the Cape of Good Hope, Sri Lanka, Batavia, and other places, the VOC did not just trade goods and use imported labor on their spice plantations, but also shipped peoples, often involuntarily to different colonies. A person's legal status within the VOC depended not just upon racial or ethnic identities, but also their political status as the VOC shipped convicts and exiles as punishment. Yet exiling political opponents often led to their ideas merely shifting places even as personal networks allowed contact with their home region to continue.46

     Even the heights of the British Empire often involved the continuation of older global networks for migrants and workers. Indeed, the Indian Ocean participated in the great wave of nineteenth century migration. Beyond the millions of people leaving Europe for the Americas during this period, tens of millions of people from China as well as western Russia moved into Manchuria and eastern Siberia. Tens of millions of Chinese people also entered southeastern Asia, tapping into the labor markets of the Indian Ocean world.47 And from India, over 30 million Indians traveled through labor markets. Of these, perhaps 24 million Indians returned home. This "circular migration" fueled economies throughout the Indian Ocean world, particularly the needs of plantations and rice fields from Burma to Zanzibar and the British Empire's railroad building in Africa.48

     Western imperialism drew upon the connections and exchanges of the Indian Ocean world and became a multifaceted experience.49 Yet local worlds remained even as they adapted to global and imperial changes. For instance, in Zanzibar the British attempted to replace the local dhow sailing trade with steam ships that carried manufactured goods, yet a vibrant informal economy remained centered around the dhow, which shipped goods ranging from mangrove poles and grain to carpets and cloves, often to places that the steamers could not reach up and down the coast of East Africa as well as Arab, Persian, and Indian ports.50 Local communities retained their influence in part because they were already defined by the global dynamic of the Indian Ocean.

     European involvement in the Indian Ocean is not a simple story of the violent or ambitiously capitalistic but rather a story contingent upon local knowledge and global forces. The arrival of the Portuguese into the Indian Ocean world only marks a watershed moment if we collapse the history of this region. Instead, Vasco da Gama and those who followed him entered into a cosmopolitan world, one already deeply defined by global trade patterns and cross cultural exchange and one in which they struggled to understand and adapt. Instead of Europeans overturning this global system, they became a part of it. And despite the growing influence of European imperial powers, the Indian Ocean world survived. Many of its older networks remained salient and local trading and methods remained influential well into the twentieth century.


I have not attempted to provide an exhaustive list of the ways that the Indian Ocean can enhance our understanding of World History. However, when we incorporate the Indian Ocean in our teaching of World History, we can find tangible examples for our intellectual framework and I hope to have offered a few here. Indeed, the interconnections, patterns, and exchanges at the heart of World History now have multiple layers to examine and explore ranging from the macro through the regional down to the local. Further, these units provide a crucial element of change over time. In the end, the Indian Ocean offers a way to get at the heart of World History where we can demonstrate to our students that this globalizing process possesses not only an ancient quality to it, but also that World History is not about an attempt to craft a common or universal culture, not about incorporating all just for the sake of it, but how these moments of connection were participated in by a vast array of humanity and how their contributions influences and created historical change.

Thomas Anderson is a lecturer at the University of New Hampshire and can be contacted at


1 For an excellent analysis of the recent historiography of the Indian Ocean, which I will not deal with here, see Markus P. M. Vink, "Indian Ocean Studies and the 'New Thalassology,'" Journal of Global History, 2 (2007): 41–62. For a textbook on the Indian Ocean, see Michael Pearson, The Indian Ocean (New York: Routledge, 2003). For the more ambitious, there is also K.N Chaudhuri, Asia Before Europe: Economy and Civilisation of the Indian Ocean from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990) as well as the more recent work on the western half of the Indian Ocean Abdul Sheriff, Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce, and Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

2 Michael Pearson, The Indian Ocean (New York: Routledge, 2003); Milo Kearney, The Indian Ocean in World History (New York: Routledge, 2004); Kenneth McPherson, The Indian Ocean: A History of People and the Sea (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Richard Hall, Empires of the Monsoon: A History of the Indian Ocean and Its Invaders (London: Harper Collins, 1998): Chaudhuri, Asia Before Europe.

3 George F. Hourani, Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times (Princeton: University of Princeton, Press, reprint 1995); Sheriff, Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean; Paul Lunde, "The Navigator: Ahmad Ibn Majid" Saudi Aramco World (July/August 2005): 45–48.

4 For a primary source full of stories and reports on the Indian Ocean see Buzurg ibn Shahriyar, The Book of the Wonders of India (London: East-West Publications, 1980) translated by GFSP Freeman-Grenville.

5 Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (New York: Verso, 2001).

6 Patrick Manning, Migration in World History; Robert Blench, "Evidence for Austronesian Voyages in the Indian Ocean" in Atholl Anderson, James H Barrett, Katherine V. Boyle, eds., The Global Origins and Development of Seafaring (Cambridge, UK: McDonald Institute for Archeological Research, 2010): 239–248.

7 Pier Larson, Ocean of Letters: Language and Creolization in an Indian Ocean Diaspora. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

8 Richard Allen, "Satisfying the Want" Journal of World Historyv 21, no. 1 (March 2010): 45–73;Gwyn Campbell, ed. The Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia (Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2004); Gwyn Campbell, ed. Abolition and its aftermath in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia. (New York: Routledge, 2005); Edward Alpers, Gwyn Campbell, and Michael Salman, eds., Resisting Bondage in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia. (New York: Routledge 2007); Deryck Scarr, Slaving and Slavery in the Indian Ocean (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998); Emma Christopher, Cassandra Pybus, Marcus Rediker, eds. Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Markus Vink, " 'The World's Oldest Trade': Dutch Slavery and Slave Trade inthe Indian Ocean in the Seventeenth Century" Journal of World History, v. 14, No. 2 (June 2003): 131–177.

9 Amitav Ghosh, In An Antique Land. (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1993).

10 Richard Allen, "Satisfying the Want"

11 Bin Yang, "The Rise and Fall of Cowrie Shells: The Asian Story" Journal of World History v 22, no.1 (March 2011): 1–26; Sanjay Garg, "Non-metallic currencies of India in Indian Ocean Trade and Economies" in Himanshu Prabha Ray and Edward Alpers, eds., Cross Currents and Community Networks: The History of the Indian Ocean (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007): 245–262.

12 Matthew P Fitzpatrick, "Provincializing Rome: The Indian Ocean Trade Network and Roman Imperialism" Journal of World History v 22, no.1 (March 2011): 27–54; John Keay, The Spice Route: A History. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006)

13 For further examination see Steven E. Sidebotham, Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

14 Philip Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

15 For an excellent analysis of trade diasporas as well as a longer discussion on the role of Armenians as a circulation society, see Sebouh David Aslanian, From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: the Global Trade Networks of Armenian merchants from New Julfa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011). Barendse also offers an alternative view of trade diasporas in his work, RJ Barendse, The Arabian Seas: The Indian Ocean World of the Seventeenth Century. (London: M.E. Sharpe 2002). For more on trade networks also see Francesca Trivellato, The Familiarity of Strangers: The Sephardic Diaspora, Livorno, and Cross-Cultural Trade in the Early Modern Period. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

16 Mark Horton and John Middleton, The Swahili: The Social Landscape of a Mercantile Society (Blackwell Publishing: Malden MA, 2000); James de Vere Allen, Swahili Origins: Swahili Culture and the Shungwaya Phenomenon. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1993)

17 Horton and Middleton, The Swahili; John Middleton, African Merchants of the Indian Ocean: Swahili of the East African Coast (2004)

18 Lombard and Aubin, eds., Asian Merchants and Businessmen in the Indian Ocean and the China Sea (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Chaudhuri, Asia Before Europe; Pearson, The Indian Ocean

19 Patricia Risso, Merchants and Faith: Muslim Commerce and Culture in the Indian Ocean. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995); Sheriff, Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean.

20 Another example can be found in the ambitious work of Engseng Ho, The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility Across the Indian Ocean (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006) which explores Hadrami diasporic communities across the Indian Ocean world which maintained and reworked their prestigious Islamic heritage as they adapted to new and local conditions.

21 Elizabeth Lambourn, "India from Aden" in Kenneth Hall, Secondary Cities and Urban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm, c 1400–1800. (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008).

22 M.N. Pearson, Pious Passengers: The Hajj in Early Times (London: Hurst and Company, 1994); Suraiya Faroqhi, Pilgrims and Sultans: The Hajj Under the Ottomans, 1517–1683 (New York: I.B. Tauris & Co., 1994); Sheriff, Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean

23 Risso, Merchants and Faith; Andre Wink, Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World (Leiden, Brill, 1991)

24 For more on Ibn Battuta, see Ross Dunn, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). For an interesting examination on how to read Ibn Battuta see David Waines, The Oydessy of Ibn Battuta:Uncommon Tales of a Medieval Traveler (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

25 A similar pattern of Islam providing legal and cultural continuity emerged in the Trans-Saharan world, see Ghislaine Lydon, On Trans-Saharan Trails: Islamic Law, Trade Networks, and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Western Africa (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

26 There is a growing literature on these ports and their interactions with the Indian Ocean world including Kenneth Hall, Secondary Cities and Urban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm, c 1400–1800. (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008); Willem Floor, The Persian Gulf: A Political and Economic History of Five Port Cities, 1500–1730 (Washington, DC: Mage Publishers, 2006); R Michael Feener, Patrick Daly, Anthony Reid, eds. Mapping the Achenese Past (Leiden: KITLV Press, 2011).

27 Michael Pearson, Port Cities and Intruders: The Swahili Coast, India, and Portugal in the Early Modern Era. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); M.N. Pearson, The Indian Ocean. (New York: Routledge, 2003)

28 Kenneth Hall, ed., Secondary Cities and Urban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm, c 1400–1800 (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008).

29 Kenneth McPherson, "Port Cities as Nodal Points of Change: The Indian Ocean, 18902–1920s" in Leila Fawaz and C. A. Bayly, eds. Modernity and Culture: From the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002): 75–95.

30 Roxani Eleni Margariti, Aden and the Indian Ocean Trade: 150 Years in the Life of a Medieval Arabian Port. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

31 Elizabeth Lambourn, "India from Aden: Khutba and Muslim Urban Networks in Late Thirteenth-Century India" in Hall, Secondary Cities and Urban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm: 55–97.

32 For an in-depth analysis of Quanzhou see Angela Schottenhammer, ed., The Emporium of the World: Maritime Quanzhou, 1000–1400 (Leiden: Brill, 2001).

33 John Chaffee, "At the Intersection of Empire and World Trade" in Hall, Secondary Cities and Urban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm: 99–122.

34 Michael Pearson, Port Cities and Intruders; J.E.G. Sutton, Kilwa: A History of the Ancient Swahili Town with a Guide to the Monuments of Kilwa Kisiwani and adjacent islands (Nariobi; British Institute in East Africa with the Tanzanian Antiquities Unit, 2000); Ross Dunn, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveller of the Fourteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986): 126–128.

35 Luis Filipe F. R. Thomaz, "Melaka and Its Merchant Communities at the turn of the 16th century" in Lombard and Aubin, eds., Asian Merchants and Businessmen in the Indian Ocean and the China Sea (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000): 25–39; Tome Pires, The Suma Oriental of Tome Pires (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1944); A short summary of some of Tome Pires can be found in Stewart Gordon, When Asia Was the World (Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 2008): 157–176.

36 Kenneth Hall, "Coastal Cities in an Age of Transition: Upstream-Downstream Networking and Societal Development in Fifteenth and Sixteenth- Century Maritime Southeast Asia" in Hall, Secondary Cities and Urban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm: 177–204. For a wider overview of the region, including the role of Melaka, see Donald B Freeman, The Straits of Malacca: Gateway or Gauntlet (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2003).

37 For example, see Denys Lombard and Jean Aubin, eds, Asian Merchants and Businessmen in the Indian Ocean and the China Sea. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). For the 19th and 20th centuries also see Sugata Bose, A Hundred Horizons: the Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006) and Thomas R. Metcalf, Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean arena, 1860–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).

38 For instance, see Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Ashin Das Gupta, The World of the Indian Ocean Merchant, 1500–1800: Collected Essays of Ashin Das Gupta. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Pearson, The Indian Ocean.

39 Patricia Risso, "Cross-Cultural Perceptions of Piracy: Maritime Violence in the Western Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf Region during a Long Eighteenth Century" Journal of World History 12, no. 2 (2001): 293–319.

40 Giancarlo Casale, The Ottoman Age of Exploration (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

41 Ashin Das Gupta, The World of the Indian Ocean Merchant. For examples on how the spice trade is often seen only through a European prism, see entertaining reads such as Charles Corn, Scents of Eden: A Narrative of the Spice Trade (New York: Kodansha International, 1998) and Giles Milton, Nathaniel's Nutmeg: or the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader who Changed the Course of History (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999).

42 For more on spices see M.N Pearson, ed., Spices in the Indian Ocean World (Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 1996); John Keay, The Spice Route: A History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006). In his powerful work on global history, Bayly addresses this issue of the rise of a consumer, universal culture, see C.A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780–1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004).

43 A.J.R. Russell-Wood, The Portuguese Empire, 1415–1808: A World on the Move (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); Anthony R. Disney, A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Jean Gelman Taylor, The Social World of Batavia: European and Eurasian in Colonial Indonesia (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009).

44 Taylor, The Social World of Batavia

45 Megan Vaughan, Creating the Creole Island: Slavery in Eighteenth-Century Mauritius (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).

46 Kerry Ward, Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)

47 Adam McKeown, Melancholy Order: Asian Migration and the Globalization of Borders (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

48 Bose, A Hundred Horizons

49 Metcalf, Imperial Connections.

50 Bose, A Hundred Horizons; For a wider discussion on the centrality of the dhow see Sheriff, Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean

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