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Seminar by dr. Sujit Sivasundaram from University of Cambridge

Thursday 21 January 2016
Lipsius 002

‘From the Winds of the Bay of Bengal: Science, Empire and Self’

We have the pleasure to welcome Dr Sujit Sivasundaram from University of Cambridge. Dr Sivasundaram will give a presentation about the connections between nature, science and empire in the Bay of Bengal.

The East India Company’s Straits Settlements – Singapore, Malacca and Penang – expanded as strategic bases of trade on the sea route between India and China. This paper charts the consolidation of the Straits Settlements as a history of knowledge about the sea which went inland, and scientific understandings of the monsoon. In particular it interrogates the relative status of Malay and British agents and argues that there was a history of entanglement across this divide in the early nineteenth century. The material context of the Bay of Bengal – including the monsoon system, and its patterns of trade and migration – set the terms for Britain’s so-called imperial meridian. Yet the arrival of new machines and regimes of free trade governance – steam-ships, surveying instruments and the mobilisation of labour – reforged the relation between the body, knowledge and terrain, allowing the British to rule supreme, instrumentalising humans and nature. While charting this story of interconnections and disjunctures in social relations, the paper integrates some revealing Malay sources alongside British ones, showing how historians of science and empire may in turn diversify their vantage points.

Sujit Sivasundaram is Reader in World History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow in History at Gonville and Caius College.  His two monographs are: Nature and the Godly Empire: Science and Evangelical Mission in the Pacific, 1795-1850 (Cambridge UP: 2005) and Islanded: Britain, Sri Lanka and the Bounds of an Indian Ocean Colony (Chicago UP: 2013). He is currently working on a book on the rise of the British Empire and the age of revolutions in the Indian and Pacific oceans. His published work has informed a debate about how to globalise the history of science. He is co-editor of The Historical Journal and a Council member of the Royal Historical Society.

Dr Sivasundaram is in Leiden to attend the Ph.D defense of Nadeera Rupesinghe (History Institute and LIAS)

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