The academic impact of the Atlantic World project encouraged similar research on the other great oceans. The 1980s saw the publication of important new studies of Indian Ocean trading networks, and from the mid-1990s scholars including Michael Pearson and Kenneth McPherson progressively advanced the idea of a distinctive Indian Ocean World that differed in geography and historical experience from the Atlantic World. (3) Matt K. Matsuda's influential essay in the American Historical Review's 2006 forum "Oceans of History" elevated the status of the Pacific Ocean in the practice of oceanic history and since that time the largest of oceans has also been investigated in a range of well-received publications. (4) However, it is now timely to pose the question whether oceanic history as practiced over the last thirty or so years has run its course? Is there scope for future development of the genre? Or, is it time to refocus our attention away from the holistic study of the largest water masses to smaller ones, to reconsider and reinstate the importance of seas in history, and to intensify our interest in the littoral places where water and land adjoin. In this essay, I will identify some of the weaknesses of today's oceanic history and propose a new spatial agenda focused on the seas and lands where the Pacific and Indian Oceans intersect.
It can easily be overlooked that oceans are physical features of the globe and spaces discursively constructed by people. Jet age travel tends to dim our awareness of the currents and tides and of the intrepid navigators below. Arguably, because of the human role in the construction of space, we can only truly begin to talk of the world's three great oceans from the early sixteenth century, when Ferdinand Magellan's voyage of circumnavigation enabled understanding of the global connectivity of these largest maritime spaces. To be sure, the northern Atlantic had for a very long time been a basin in which people and goods circulated. For centuries, Malay seafarers had traversed the Indian Ocean through their mastery of monsoon winds and sea currents. Maritime networks linked many Pacific peoples, too.
Trade and exchange were, therefore, continuous features of the lives of the peoples of all three oceans long prior to the 1500s, even if the frequency of movement and scale of activity varied widely. However, three discursively constructed oceanic worlds, named spaces, brought into connection and juxtaposed rhetorically, existed only from the early 1500s when the Portuguese and Spanish fleets crossed the Indian and Pacific Oceans respectively and made claims upon the lands that separated them. The journal of the Spanish Friar Andres de Urdaneta (1508-68), describes in 1527 Portuguese and Spanish governors who traversed the two oceans from the west and east respectively facing off against each other, "each accusing the other of being usurpers in the Moluccas." (5)
Oceanic history as practiced over the past three decades exhibits some common flaws. First, the weight of scholarship has tended to reinforce perceptions of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans as closed worlds where movement and exchange operated within the inelastic boundaries established by the adjacent land masses. Islam spread westward from the Arabian Peninsula to Southeast Asia; silver shipped westward across the Pacific from Acapulco to Manila; nineteenth-century European migrants sailed west from Liverpool or Hamburg to establish new lives in industrializing North America. Each of the oceans has been constituted as a discrete object of study. However, if modern-day historians have found rounding the capes and navigating from one ocean to another unsettling, early modern traders and nineteenth-century immigrants proved much more adept at charting the treacherous waters between oceans. Historically, people, commodities and ideas circulated within and between world's great oceans. As Linda Colley commented in relation to the Atlantic Ocean, "to the extent that the world was in motion in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, and this was expressed in the wider transmission and exchange of commodities, ships, ideas and people, the practice of singling out the Atlantic, and the lands connected by it, circumscribes our understanding of what was involved." (6) The recent popularity of global approaches to the past owes at least a measure of its appeal to its ability to breach the artificially-imposed boundaries of the oceanic worlds and illustrate wider-scale interactions in the past.
Secondly, works of oceanic history have often displayed only a limited register in dealing with matters of orientation and scale. For reasons that can only be briefly noted here, practitioners of oceanic history have tended to place greater stress on east-west-east mobility and exchange than on north-south-north exchanges. Part of the explanation for this tendency lies in contemporary cartographic practices that orient maps northward. So, too conventional Western reading practices affect the way we view the printed page. As a result of these influences, we have been rather more attuned to observe movements along the lines of latitude than along the lines of longitude. Simultaneously, the oceanic approach prioritizes the macro-level approach to the study of these large water masses. Attempts to turn up the dial of the microscope and adopt a more densely textured approach to oceans and their inhabitants have been rarer.
One solution to the issue of scale has been to step back from a holistic approach and consciously fragment oceanic space. In his excellent recent book, The Great Ocean, David Igler writes that the concept of the Pacific World "is unstable and problematic, even if its shorthand utility makes it difficult to resist." He understands the Pacific Ocean from the late eighteenth century as "not a single ocean world [but as a] vast waterscape where imperial and personal contests played out on isolated bays and coastlines." (7) As works including Igler's show, the challenge posed by diversity, both physical and cultural, is particularly acute in the case of the Western Pacific Ocean. In this space, in particular, we need to make room for the sea to return. Unlike the long land barriers of the Americas or the formidable coastlines of Africa, the Indian and Pacific Oceans are divided by an irregular patchwork of lands and islands, and of seas and straits. The Indian Ocean's eastern/Pacific Ocean's western boundary constitutes a seam that is porous, physically diverse and culturally varied. This oceanic connection offers a test site for a new approach to waterways and littorals where seas are brought to the foreground--the South China Sea, the Celebes Sea, the Java Sea, the Andaman Sea to name just a few. In refocussing on seas and shallows rather than the ocean deep, I take to be true the argument advanced by scholars including Leonard Andaya that by reconfiguring spaces in this way we can identify alternative ways of studying the past. (8)
What would a future study that privileges seas rather than oceans, and investigates the tide lines of seas and littoral spaces look like? How would this enable historians to eschew conventional East-West orientation and explore in more detail the north-south mobility of people, goods and ideas over time? If we take the border between the Indian and Pacific oceans as our testing ground, a number of lines of investigation stand out. Foremost is the development of trading networks. Southeast Asian historians including Anthony Reid have long acknowledged their region's importance in trade between China and Western Asia. Along the other axis, a body of exciting new scholarship is extending our knowledge of north-south connections along the variegated chain of lands and islands that runs from continental Asia to Australia, including the connections between the peoples of Makassar and indigenous Australians. (9)
Asian and European mariners plied the seas between the oceans trading goods. From the late eighteenth century ships from Kolkata set sail for Sumatra, passing through the Strait of Malacca before entering the Java Sea. The Australian colonies and the Fijian islands quickly entered this trading world, as did New Zealand as voyages across the Tasman Sea became more frequent. (10) The subsequent intensification of migration from southern China also left an indelible mark on nineteenth-century trading patterns. For example, in 1854 a young Chinese merchant named Lowe Kong Meng, arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, to take advantage of new opportunities presented by the gold rushes in eastern Australia. Meng was a man of the sea: born in Guangzhou, educated in Penang, a trader on his own vessel between Mauritius, Kolkata and within the South China Sea, his extended southward journey was in some respects a continuation of sea-borne trading traditions that had been building for centuries. (11)
Just as these seas were places of vibrant trade, they were also the filaments along which ideas were transmitted. The seas and littorals between the Indian and Pacific Oceans constitute a line of demarcation of religious influence, the former part of the world of Islam and the latter a place of Christian missionary endeavor. The two faiths, and others, made landfall and competed for land and adherents. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Friar Urdaneta observed in the Spice Islands the young Sultan of Tidore and the Spanish Captain-General Zarquisano swearing loyalty to each other, one on the Koran and the other on the Bible. The arrival of these and other faiths and their interaction with indigenous beliefs had enduring consequences. While historians have attended to the national and regional implications of these competing belief systems, focus on the intersection of sea and land has the potential to advance our current narratives and explore more fully the longitudinal scope of religious impacts. Examples of these interactions include the Islamic influence that spread southward across the Banda Sea from Makassar to indigenous communities in northern Australia. (12)
Seas, like oceans, were places of vast human mobility. Though men and women had been moving within and between the Indian and Pacific oceans for centuries, the size of the population on the move increased dramatically as indentured laborers and contract workers from mainland Asia joined tens of thousands of European newcomers in reshaping the demography of the lands along the oceanic seam. While much scholarship has explored large-scale European migration east and west across the great oceans from the eighteenth century, this perspective runs the risk of ignoring the vast non-European migration on the seas and littorals adjacent to oceans from the latter half of the nineteenth century. For example, Adam McKeown has shown that in the period from 1846-1940 in the order of 48-52 million people moved southwards out of India and southern China into Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean rim, and the South Pacific, traversing seas and coastal waterways as far as New Zealand. (13)
Southeast Asian historians have also drawn attention to the complex nature of colonialism in their region and emphasized the importance of re-thinking spatial boundaries to investigate its causes and effects. (14) By the time of the nineteenth century's age of empire, the tenor of European engagement at the intersection of the two oceans was transformed from its earlier manifestations into the forcible imposition of colonial rule or the establishment of protectorates where treaties determined relations with the Western powers. Bookended geographically in the northwest by the British presence in India and in the south by its colonization of New Zealand, the growth of the European empires involved competition not only for lands but for the stewardship of seas and shallows that extended as far as the islands beyond the Coral and Solomon seas.
While larger-scale oceanic studies have advanced our knowledge enormously in recent decades, let's not forget the historical importance of the sea. Trade, belief systems, people and power found texture and meaning in fine-grained encounters on smaller and more enclosed waterways, the seas between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. As the spatial turn underway in the humanities and social sciences encourages us to rethink our approaches to scope, scale and orientation, reinstatement of the sea promises a timely stimulant to or efforts to rethink the past.
Malcolm Campbell, University of Auckland
(1.) Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean world in the age of Philip II (London: Collins, 1972).
(2.) Scholarship on Atlantic history and its principal themes is extensive. A recent overview of the scholarship and bibliographic source is Trevor Burnard, British Atlantic World: Oxford bibliographies online (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
(3.) Kenneth McPherson, The Indian Ocean: a history of the people and the sea (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993); Michael Pearson, The Indian Ocean (London: Routledge, 2003).
(4.) Matt K. Matsuda "The Pacific", American Historical Review 111, no. 3 (2006): 758-80. His monograph Pacific worlds: a history of seas, peoples and cultures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2012, develops and extends the concept. Other recent scholarship includes David Igler, Great ocean: Pacific worlds from Captain Cook to the gold rush (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), and David Armitage and Alison Bashford, eds., Pacific histories: ocean, land, people (Houndsmills, Hants.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
(5.) Mairin Mitchell, Friar Andres de Urdaneta, O.S.A. (1508-1568): Pioneer of Pacific Navigation from West to East (London: MacDonald and Evans, 1964), 41. 6 7 8
(6.) Linda Colley, "The Sea around us," New York Review of Books (22 June 2006).
(7.) Igler, Great Ocean, 4, 10.
(8.) Leonard Y Andaya, "'The sea of Malayu:' an ocean perspective of Malay history," https://icssis. files.wordpress.com/2012/05/0609082010_07.pdf. Accessed 11 June 2014, 47.
(9.) For example, Julia Martinez and Adrian Vickers, The pearl frontier: Indonesian labour and indigenous encounters in Australia's northern trading networks (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2015). On Southeast Asian trade see Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450-1680 Volume 2: Expansion and Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).
(10.) Early maritime connections between New Zealand, Australia and Asia are explored in a wide range of contemporary sources and historical studies. A tantalizing sampler of mobility on the seam between India and New Zealand including Sydney, Hobart, Batavia and Penang, is J. W. Davidson, Peter Dillon of Vanikoro, ed. Oscar Spate (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1975).
(11.) Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the global colour line: white men's countries and the international challenge of racial equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 16, 25.
(12.) Mitchell, Urdaneta, 37.
(13.) Adam McKeown, "Global migrations, 18461940," Journal of World History 15, no. 2 (2004): 156, 157.
(14.) Remco Raben, "The Colonial Intrusion: Boundaries and Structures," in Norman G. Owen, ed., Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian History (London: Routledge, 2014), 25.
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|Title Annotation:||Special Section: The World And The Sea; historical significance of intersection of Pacific and Indian Oceans|
|Publication:||World History Bulletin|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2016|
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