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Call for Papers-Sharpening the edges: Instating State and power in Indian Ocean history

15 March 2015

Workshop date
17 August 2015

Leiden University, the Netherlands

The workshop
The workshop is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and enabled by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS). It will bring together a group of fifteen scholars, some invited and others selected through this call for papers, to discuss the state of research and teaching in the burgeoning field of Indian Ocean history. For historical reasons linked to former colonial empires and continued relations between them and their erstwhile colonies, interest in the Indian Ocean is more visible in the fields of teaching and research in institutions in Europe and Asia rather than in the USA. In keeping with the overall Mellon programme, Rethinking Asian Studies, the workshop aims at triangulating a dialogue between Euro-American and South and Southeast Asian scholars.

Indian Ocean historiographies have arguably succumbed to the new vogue for transnational flows and networks. While a focus on the Indian Ocean world in the recent years has succeeded in breaking down artificial boundaries between regions that for long dominated traditional area studies, especially between South and South East Asia, and shifted the emphasis from the nation-state and its architects to other actors and forces, this change has often left dynamics of power out of the picture. In these often very appealing accounts of moving people and things around the Indian Ocean one fails to identify what historical question is being asked. We therefore ask how scholars might sharpen the edges of the inquiry so that the new oceanic turn can offer a novel point of departure for critiquing the creation of bounded territorial forms and political communities.

The organizing committee of the workshop includes: Prof. Nira Wickramasinghe (Leiden Univ), Prof David Henley (Leiden Univ), Dr Marieke Bloembergen (Leiden, KITLV), Prof. Michael Laffan (Princeton Univ), Prof Bhavani Raman (Univ of Toronto).

Call for papers
This workshop invites proposals from PhD students and early career post docs for papers that reflect upon the spatial shifts visible in imperial and area studies with the purpose of developing approaches in teaching and research on the Indian Ocean. In particular it welcomes discussions that combine a focus on transnational connections with an awareness of power dynamics. Such discussions may include the question of just how ‘cosmopolitan’ port cities were?; what are the boundaries of Indian Ocean economies?; or yet, how and why did religious networks change in form and use of space? A specific session will further be devoted to teaching methodologies, and the relationship between Indian Ocean Studies and social science disciplines.

Proposal Guidelines
Proposal should include a title, 250 word abstract, your institutional affiliation and contact information and a short biography. Please send your proposal to Ms. Titia van der Maas at

Deadline of submission is 15 March 2015. We aim to inform you about the selection end of March/ early April.

The event will be held on 17 August 2015 at Leiden University. Accommodation for two nights and transportation expenses will be covered for selected contributors.

For further information about the content of the workshop and the call, please contact prof. Nira Wickramasinghe (Leiden University) at

Rethinking Asian Studies in a Global Context (2014-2016) is a three-year IIAS pilot programme funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (New York) aimed at reshaping the field of Asian studies by fostering new humanities-focused research. For more information on the programme, go to

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