ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Historiography of Oceans

Oceans Connect: Reflections on Water Worlds across Time and Space edited by Rila Mukherjee (Delhi: Primus Books), 2013; pp xvi + 286, Rs 995.

Oceanic history is entering a comfortable middle age. Ever since Fernand Braudel, historians and other scholars have plumbed the oceanic depths for new insights into old historical questions and innovative directions for scholarship. The Atlantic world has garnered the lion’s share of attention but a steady stream of scholarship has been published on the Indian Ocean and the Pacific as well. So the edited volume Oceans Connect appears on the scene at a time when there is little that is innovative or insurgent about studying the ocean. There is consequently a high bar for success in a field that is already littered with edited volumes.

What was particularly intriguing about this volume was the promise to examine not just how oceans connect landed territories, but the possibility of examining how oceans connect to each other. The enormous influence of Braudel’s Mediterranean has made comparisons quite common in oceanic history. However, this volume explores how commodities, ideas and practices were transferred between oceans. Some of the chapters here offer models for global history and quite broad programmatic statements about how oceans should be studied. Yet these pieces seemed less compelling than the chapters which focused on making smaller arguments through rich empirical evidence. Oceans Connect gives tantalising hints of something original but ultimately settles into a useful addition to the historiography of oceans.

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