Indian Ocean Port Cities and Their Hinterlands

Center for Global Asia, NYU Shanghai
26.09.2019 - 27.09.2019
Center for Global Asia, NYU Shanghai

During the past decade there has been a considerable increase in literature documenting the growth of Indian Ocean port cities. Famously described as the Brides of Sea, port cities such as Cape Town, Karachi, Bombay (Mumbai), Madras (Chennai), Calcutta, Rangoon, Singapore, the Chinese cities in the Pearl River Delta, and Jakarta were the bridgeheads for the establishment of European dominance. They fostered greater connectivity, intercultural exchanges, and produced distinctive urban settlement patterns, environments and social relationships. Existing studies on these cities often focus on the effects of commerce and colonialism, ignoring the local contexts and the deep congeries of interactions, contestations and socio-cultural as well as politico-economic dynamics within port cities.

This workshop will focus on the mobile and multifaceted connections, networks and routes of exchange that constitute the life worlds of port cities and beyond them, into their immediate hinterlands (and hinterseas) or even more distant localities. It will explore the networks, institutions, circuits of migration, through which goods, people, knowledge and religious cosmologies circulated within the port cities as well as the littorals.

Secondly, the workshop will also examine the uneasy relationships between port cities and the coast, and the relationship between the port and hinterland in the context of how they were shaped by labour, infrastructure and property. Thirdly, it will also explore the legal, regulatory and political structures put in place to govern the port cities. This includes both the institutions and technologies of rule, policing and racial segregation of populations, as well as the different levels of political mediation, legal manoeuvring and petitioning undertaken by a cross section of society.

The Center for Global Asia at NYU Shanghai invites papers for an interdisciplinary workshop on port cities in the Indian Ocean to be held on September 26 and 27 2019. This workshop will be organized in connection with a Luce Foundation research project on ‘“Port Cities Environments in Global Asia”. We are looking for contributions that address any of the three above mentioned themes. Selected papers will be considered for publication in the Journal of Indian Ocean World Studies. Please send an abstract of 500 words and a CV to by the 5th of May. Selected candidates will be notified by early June and will be asked to send their papers of not more than 7000 words by 1st of September to facilitate discussion among participants. Lodging for three nights and subsidized airfare will be provided.


Elke Papelitzky
NYU Shanghai
Center for Global Asia
1555 Century Avenue
Pudong New Area
200122 Shanghai

Indian Ocean Port Cities and Their Hinterlands, 26.09.2019 – 27.09.2019 Shanghai, in: Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists, 15.03.2019, <>.
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