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"The Indian Ocean in World History," A Web Resource developed by Susan Douglass, funded by the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, Revised and Updated, 2010.

Reviewed by John Maunu and Bryan Scheiber


     The place of the Indian Ocean in World history has long been of great interest to world historians. It has been of even greater value to classroom teachers addressing world historical processes, so much so that the College Board developed a 77–page "Special Booklet" on that topic in 2006–2007.1 It rightly remains a standard resource for the varieties of approaches it offers to the subject. This essay seeks to draw attention to an additional resource in the form of a website developed by Susan Douglass, at the time of writing a doctoral candidate at George Mason University and an educational consultant for the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim and Christian Understanding. This website, entitled "The Indian Ocean in World History," was funded by Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, a program of the Middle East Institute, whose goal is to educate America and the West in Arab culture, history, and geography.  This website does not focus on the Arab world as may be suggested by an opening video presentation which begins with Omani Arab dhows gliding gracefully over Indian Ocean waters.  Rather, it is intended to spur understanding of the Indian Ocean as a cultural, economic, and historical trade route.  Updated this year, "The Indian Ocean in World History" is a free online resource for K–12 teachers and other educators that gives students access to a variety of primary sources as texts and images, arranged into seven eras, or long time periods, from more than 90,000 years ago to the twentieth century. It can be viewed at or This review of the website also includes reference to related on-line lesson plans, links, book reviews, university teaching syllabi, and key introductory books and articles.

     "The Indian Ocean in World History" excels as a middle school and high school teaching tool. In technical terms, it is designed with the "web 2.0" ideology in mind. The website loads with a short video, which fades into an introductory text. The navigation from there is easy to access and use, although additional time could have been spent designing the drop down menu options.  The maps section of the website is particularly welcome. Select a map from the navigational menu and a map with key events, locations and travel routes is displayed. Click on an icon on the map and additional information appears. The website is designed for a specific fixed-width size, so some users may have to use the scrollbars to fully access the content and photos. Students should be able to freely navigate the site.

     The website could be regarded as a stand alone lesson on Indian Ocean trade routes over time.  Under "Learning Tools" the first resource mentioned is a "Change and Continuity over Time" article on Indian Ocean history.   Pull down maps, all interactive are exceptional "hands on" learning tools for students in middle and high school.  The maps offer icons displaying products, goods, important people, ports, and cities within the Indian Ocean trading community. Current AP World history units begin at 8000 BCE; as this website begins the trade route story more than 90,000 years ago, it possesses somewhat of a "Big History" feel.  Though beginning earlier in time, the website lessons, maps, primary source documents can be easily formatted into the existing AP World 5 units of study.  The website also is suited to current AP World History course description themes, comparative approaches and major snapshots as described at The quizzes and answer keys are all AP World history friendly.

     The coming revision of the AP Course will in no way diminish the value of the site to AP instructors. It will certainly help with the new "key concepts" section (19 in all) that can be found at The announced AP World History Curriculum revised framework for 2011–2012 has key concepts which can be taught with this website.  For example in Period 1 "Technological and Environmental Transformations" to 600 BCE, which should be taught in a week and a half, the Key Concept 1.3, "The Development and Interactions of Early Agricultural, Pastoral and Urban societies," can include Indian Ocean trade.  The same can be said for Period 2 from 600 BCE–600 CE "Organization and Reorganization of Human Societies," Key Concept 2.3 "Emergence of Transregional Networks of Communication and Exchange," Period 3 from 600 CE–1450 "Regional and Transregional Interactions," Key Concept 3.1 "Expansion and Intensification of Communication and Exchange Networks," Key Concept 3.3 "Increased Economic Productive Capacity and Its Consequences," Period 4 from 1450–1750 "Global Interactions," Key Concept 4.1 "Globalizing Networks of Communication and Exchange," and Key Concept 4.3 "State Consolidation and Imperial Expansion," Period 5 from 1750 to 1900 "Industrialization and Global Interaction," Key Concept 5.1 "Industrialization and Global Capitalism," Key Concept 5.2 "Imperialism and National State Formation," Key Concept 5.4 "Global Migration," and also Period 6 "Accelerating Global Change and Realignments c. 1900 to the Present," Key Concept 6.2, "Global Conflicts and Their Consequences," and Key Concept 6.3 "New Conceptualizations of Global Economy, Society and Culture." These can all be taught from an Indian Ocean trade perspective through use of this website.

     It is important to note that 11 of the 19 Key Concepts in the AP World History Revised Curriculum are related to information contained within the "Indian Ocean in World History" website. To this should be added Lynda Shaffer's classic essay, "Southernization, is a powerful secondary classroom tool that is also widely used in high schools, colleges, and universities. It was originally published in the Journal of World History (5, no. 1 (Spring 1994), 1–21 and available at several websites in a student-friendly edited and condensed form accompanied by nine study questions, including and at the AP Central webpage mentioned above.

Under the "Learning Tools" icon at the top of the "Indian Ocean in World History" website is WorldQuest. Clicking on that finds an outdated competition for April 24, 2010, but the WorldQuest Study Guide is filled with summary information on the Indian Ocean. 

In sum, the "Indian Ocean in World History" website provided valuable information and is both interactive and student friendly.  Any middle or high school instructor will find it beneficial to their curriculum with many segments being of university quality.

Related Resources:

AP Collegeboard 2006–2007 Special Focus booklet (77 pp.) Professional Development Workshop materials-"Teaching About the Indian Ocean." This is the direct and free source for the digital version of the above.
AP Collegeboard lessons, including "Teaching about the Indian Ocean" for $8, or for free if one signs up for the AP central site by providing name and school.
University of Utah Middle East Outreach Program, "Indian Ocean in History," links and resources.
Zheng He's Indian Ocean voyages, thanks to Bill Zeigler's AP World History Hotlinks
Bill Zeigler's AP World History hotlinks page.
National Geographic Xpeditions Lesson on Indian Ocean.
Jewel of Muscat site highlighting rebuilding of a 9th century Arab dhow by Oman
and Singapore including lessons at all levels.

Indian Ocean Trade lesson (7th grade).  Note 3 other Trade lessons.
Note Lori Shaller's Indian Ocean Trading Activity lesson in James Diskant's World History Connected article.
Bridging World History site on Indian Ocean....note PDF lessons on lower left of page with
connections to Mississippians and Vikings.

A Teaching Syllabus

Professor Sebouh Aslanian Fall 2007 Course syllabus, "The Indian Ocean in World History," with sources, including Amitav Ghosh's medieval novel, In an Antique Land.
Penn Libraries sources for NEH conference.
Focus on Sea—bibliography...Indian Ocean.
Note Indian Ocean website, look at lower left of page for huge Indian Ocean
bibliiography broken up into four strands.
Commodies and culture bibliography.
Commodities and Culture resources and links site.

Recent Bibliography (2007–2010) on East Asian integration and Trade.

Key Books

Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250–1350 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).

George Hourani, Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Expanded edition, 1995).

Milo Kearny, The Indian Ocean in World History (New York and London:
Routledge, 2004).

Michael Pearson: The Indian Ocean (New York: Routledge, 2010). Highly recommended.

Lynda Shaffer's influential Southernization article, pdf.
The Spice Routes.
Pakistan Retired General Lodi 2000 comments on Pakistan and importance of Indian Ocean.
China and Indian Ocean 1400-Present article.
State formation in ancient northeast Africa and the Indian Ocean, Dr. Stanley Burstein.
Indian Ocean articles from
Indian Ocean resources.  Some do not open.

See also: Markus Vink, "The World's Oldest Trade": Dutch Slavery and Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean in the Seventeenth Century," Journal of World History, 14, no. 2 (June 2003): 131–177.

Book Reviews  (Audio)

Three reviews of Robert Kaplan's new book, Monsoons:  The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (New York: Random House) 2010. [Editor's note: Kaplan's sweeping geenralizations, like most such things, often do not stand the test of time]
Amitava Chowdhury review in World History Connected on Milo Kearny's The Indian Ocean in World History (New York and London: Routledge, 2004) 160 pp., $26.95.

John Maunu is an AP/Collegeboard World History consultant, World History Connected's Internet/Links Editor, and a 40 year World History, AP World History and AP European History teacher at Grosse Ile High School, Grosse Ile, Michigan. He can
be contacted at

Bryan Scheiber is the President of Zorveo Incorporated, a web-based technologies and design firm located in Downriver Detroit. His latest projects allow for the educational
collaboration of students and teachers around the world. He can be contacted at



1 See Accessed January 12, 2011.



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