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Lecture | E-Lecture

Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire as Seen from the Southwest Indian Ocean

Tuesday 1 December 2020

In this lecture, Professor Sivasundaram will give a broad overview of his forthcoming book Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire. He will specifically discuss Mauritius as it moved from French to British rule, and served as a magnet in the age of revolutions.

Waves Across the South relocates and repopulates the long-standing historical label of the ‘age of revolutions’, by moving to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In doing this it charts a lineage of rights, state-making, selfhood and knowledge-making from the global South for this period thus decentring the Euro-Atlantic’s age of revolutions. It also analyses the ascendance of the British empire as a counter-revolt.

The book foregrounds specific ‘small seas’ and one of these is the southwest Indian ocean, encompassing the Cape Colony, Mauritius, Madagascar and the region’s connections with South Asia. As news of the French Revolution saw the setting up of republican assemblies, Mauritius took up a place in the diplomatic politics of the era. A particular focus here is an embassy from Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Mauritius then fell to the British in 1810, though this too was not a watershed nor was it an isolated event in the rise of a British empire across the Indian Ocean. Bids for the colony to be set free from Britain continued into the 1840s. By tracking Mauritius like this, set in a wider oceanic landscape, the aim is to illustrate the potential of working with particular and often forgotten sites set in an Indian ocean landscape which itself was in flux between different modes of politics and imperialism.

Professor Sujit Sivasundaram

Sujit Sivasundaram was born and educated in Sri Lanka and came to Cambridge in 1994 to study engineering and then natural sciences and history and philosophy of science. In 2012 he was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize for History. Sivasundaram has worked primarily on the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries in the Indian and Pacific oceans, with a special emphasis on South and Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. He has wide thematic concerns which relate to the intersection of empires and globalisation with the environment, culture, technology, ethnicity, anthropology, science and medicine. He is the author of amongst others Islanded: Britain, Sri Lanka and the Bounds of an Indian Ocean Colony (2013). His book for Harper Collins, 'Waves Across the South', will appear in 2021 and links the British empire and the age of revolutions in the oceans of the global South - the Indian and Pacific seas. He has worked in archives across the Indian and Pacific oceans for this project.

Organisation and registration

Organised by Bente de Leede, Alicia Schrikker (both Leiden University) and Dries Lyna (Radboud University Nijmegen). To receive the Zoom link for the lecture, send an e-mail to b.m.de.leede@hum.leidenuniv.nl.

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