Re-thinking the Indian Ocean

INTERCOLONIAL NETWORKS; OCEANIC CIRCULATIONS:
RE-THINKING THE INDIAN OCEAN

UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY SYDNEY
11th – 13th March 2009

This workshop will mark the inauguration of a new Indian Ocean research network supported by the University of Technology Sydney. It will aim to work collaboratively with the major Indian Ocean centres of research based in India and South Africa, but it will be innovative in two ways.

  • Firstly it will seek to strengthen the active interdisciplinarity of the field, drawing not only on cultural studies, history, economics and politics but on environmental studies, ecology, geography and the material studies of archaeology and the heritage fields.
  • Secondly it will seek to strengthen an active awareness of the eastern and southern quadrant of the Indian Ocean, namely South East Asia, Indonesia and Australia, tracing these lands’ myriad connections with each other and with the peoples on the African and South Asian shores of the Ocean.

This conference follows on from two conferences already initiated by the Indian Ocean researchers at UTS-“Culture and Commerce in the Indian Ocean” (Leiden, The Netherlands, 25th – 27th September 2006) and “Oceans of Story” (Perth, Australia, 5th to 7th February 2008).

This workshop is the first to emerge from our ARC-funded project that seeks to reassess relationships between colonies in the Indian Ocean area. These relationships were far more important than previous imperial (and anti-imperial) studies have suggested.

We hope that this perspective will lead to a significant new field of research, Intercolonial Studies, based not just on a comparison of settler-colonial experience, but also on the sharing of cultural inventions among colonised peoples. We hope to trace the circulation of people, plants and animals, of commodities, technologies and ideas around the Indian Ocean in a way that was relatively autonomous from imperial centres.

Nor is it only imperial-colonial interactions which interest us, for there were also important sub-imperial connections involving more margjnal European peoples. For example, in the early nineteenth century merchants from the vestigial Portuguese areas in India operated in the interstices of the British framework, enabling them to participate fully in the opium trade to China.

We will focus particularly on sea connections between the land masses of the Indian Ocean, and the cultures and histories of seafaring life, particularly those of the subaltern crews and the lower deck passengers, the cargoes, the stowaways and especially the ideas which travelled with them all.

The themes of this workshop may include

  • Subaltern and creole connections across imperial boundaries
  • Islands in the ocean as sites of heightened connectivity
  • The dissemination of knowledges, especially via printing presses using vernacular languages
  • Comparisons and insights from Atlantic studies
  • The validity of terracentric models and themes for oceanic studies
  • Subaltern people at sea and on land:  stokers, sailors, wharfies, bar owners, prostitutes
  • The adoption, adaptation and transfer of technologies
  • Patterns of religious connections, and ties to Mecca and Rome
  • New epistemologies for Indian Ocean studies and the ambivalent promise of Cultural Studies
  • Indigenous groups flourishing in the entrails of the ‘British lake’ in the nineteenth century
  • Imperial and indigenous literatures:  e.g. Joseph Conrad v. Amitav Ghosh; Wilber Smith v. Abdulrazak Gurnah; Ibn Battuta v. Vasco da Gama

More information here.

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