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The Indian Ocean World: Sailors, Scholars, Slaves


Admission requirements



This course explores the pasts and present of the Indian Ocean world as a space that connects Asia to Africa and accommodates more than half the world population. It was once a region at the heart of world history that brought together people through exchanges of commodities, capital, labour, ideas and culture. It was also from the end of the fifteenth century the theater of competition and conflict between European states and armed chartered companies. Constant migrations, trade, travel and socio-cultural flows define the pasts and present of the Indian Ocean. The study of the Indian Ocean is also part of a methodological turn to oceanic history that helps scholars understand the transformations of societies that transcend national and regional territorial compartments.

In this course we will focus on a few key actors and groups that shaped and were shaped by transoceanic networks in the pre-modern and modern eras. Among them, the course argues for the centrality of marginal communities who traversed the Indian Ocean like sailors, slaves and scholars thus contributing in a distinct manner to the making of the Indian Ocean as a highway of global exchanges of peoples and things.

In twelve thematic lectures we will explore a variety of topics cutting across time and space such as: technology (navigation and shipping), piracy, pilgrimage, cosmopolitanism, slavery, convict and indentured labour, circulation of ideas (religion and law), languages, creolite, diasporas. The course will make use of literary, historical, ethnographic and cinematic texts together with academic readings.

The course is especially useful to students in South and Southeast Asian studies but welcomes students from other programs such as International Studies, Middle Eastern studies, African studies, history and anthropology.

Course objectives

General Objectives

  • Acquire skills to analyze and distil the main argument in a text

  • Acquire skills to plan, and write a research paper

  • Acquire skills to make a short oral presentation using Power Point

  • Course specific objectives

At the end of the course the student will have:

  • a basic knowledge of the most important scholarship on the Indian Ocean world

  • an understanding of the methodological value of oceanic history


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method


The course is assessed in three ways:

  1. Weekly webpostings
  2. A class presentation on a text in the required reading list
  3. A written assessment consisting of an essay type question that requires reading outside the required reading list

In order to pass the course, students must have contributed actively to at least 75% of class meetings, written 80% of the webpostings and done their class presentation, and receive an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.


  • Weekly webpostings: 20%

  • The class presentation: 20%

  • The written assessment: 60%

  • The course is an integrated whole. All categories must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Students who fail the course (get a total mark of “5.49” or lower) can submit a new written assignment (3) only. If students take this option, they will be given an alternative topic. They will not be permitted to resubmit the same written assessment. The deadline for this version will be determined in consultation with the parties concerned.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

To be announced through blackboard.


General information about uSis is available on the website.

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