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The Indian Ocean in the Long Nineteenth Century


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


This seminar traces critical approaches to the study of the Indian Ocean transnational and interregional arena in the long nineteenth century (c. 1780-1950). Focusing mostly on scholarship that has emerged in the past three decades, it uncovers the ways in which the Indian Ocean world has been defined and imagined as a geographical entity, an economic space, an imperial arena, an area of intense environmental change, and a place where subaltern actors such as convicts, pilgrims, and soldiers were both monitored and could carve out some freedom. In the process, it illustrates when and how places, people, commodities, and ideas became mobile and interconnected, thus tracing the impact of and on religious affiliations, technology, imperialism, capitalism, and nationalist identities.

Students will have an opportunity to research a variety of themes within this general topic using varied source material. This includes official documents of the East India Companies, letters, memoirs, travelogues, histories, and artistic and other material sources.

The students will be tested in the first few weeks on their basic knowledge about the Indian Ocean based on a reading of the following texts:

  • Michael Pearson, The Indian Ocean

  • Edward Alpers, The Indian Ocean in World History

  • C.A. Bayly and Leila Fawaz, eds., Modernity and Culture: From the Meditteranean to the Indian Ocean

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 2) The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 3) The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 4) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 5) The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  • 6) The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  • 7) The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  • 8) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 9) The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  • 10) (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  • 11) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940);

  • 12) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    -in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) Will gain insight into the field of Indian Ocean Studies and the main debates that define this field.

  • 14) Will obtain a critical understanding of the types of primary sources utilized by scholars in the field to make their arguments.

  • 15) Will understand the need for transcending imperial and national spaces to develop an understanding of interregional history.

  • 16) Will gain the ability to make a clear and cogent oral and written report on their research.

  • 17) (ResMA only) will be required to work with a particular set of primary sources on a topic of their choice with the objective of answering an unanswered question within that topic. Their research paper will thus potentially suggest a new direction for the field of Indian Ocean history.


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Seminars: 26 hours

  • Practical work: 80 hours (including archival research)

  • Preparation seminars: 30 hours

  • Tutoring: 2 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 30 hours

  • Writing a research paper: 112 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 13-16 (ResMA also 17)

  • Entry test (week 3)
    Measured learning objectives: 4, 8, 10-13

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 9, 13-16


  • Written paper: 70%

  • Entry test: 10%

  • Oral presentation: 20%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Blackboard.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

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


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

Reading list

  • Pedro Machado, Ocean of Trade: South Asian Merchants, Africa, and the Indian Ocean, c. 1750-1850

  • Sugata Bose, A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire

  • Nile Green, Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the Western Indian Ocean, 1840-1915

  • Eric Tagliacozzo, The Longest Journey: Southeast Asians and the Pilgrimage to Mecca

  • Sunil Amrith, Crossing the Bay of Bengal: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrants

  • Clare Andersen, Subaltern Lives: Biographies of Colonialism in the Indian Ocean World, 1790-1920

  • Sunil Amrith, Unruly Waters: How Rains, Rivers, Coasts, and Seas have Shaped Asia’s History

  • C.A. Bayly and Leila Fawaz, eds., Modernity and Culture: From the Meditteranean to the Indian Ocean


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Chitralekha Zutshi