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Indian Ocean Studies and the ‘new thalassology’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 May 2007

Markus P. M. Vink
Department of History, State University of New York at Fredonia, 280 Central Avenue, E318 Thompson Hall, Fredonia, NY 14063, USA E-mail:


This article explores the past, present, and possible future directions of the ‘‘new thalassology’’ [from the ancient Greek thalassa, ‘‘sea’’] and Indian Ocean studies from its humble beginnings in the 1950s and 1960s, and the cross-fertilization between the ‘Annales’ school and world-systems analysis in the 1980s, to its – admittedly incomplete – institutionalization in the early twenty-first century. In addition, it defines the numerous, often flexible and permeable, spatial and temporal boundaries or ‘frontiers’ of the Indian Ocean world(s). A final section surveys some of the potentialities and pitfalls of Indian Ocean studies and the new thalassology, with the strengths outweighing the weaknesses. The new thalassology undoubtedly presents some daunting challenges. It is to be hoped, however, that charting some of the ‘hundred frontiers’ of the globalized, inter-regional Indian Ocean seascape provides some sense of direction for this exciting field of scholarship and helps shape the future contours of maritime-based studies

© 2007 London School of Economics and Political Science

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This article has profited greatly from discussions by the participants of the conference ‘Culture and commerce in the Indian Ocean’, Leiden, The Netherlands, 25–27 September 2006. In addition, I would like to thank Sugata Bose, Gwyn Campbell, Rila Mukherjee, Ravi Palat, and Michael Pearson, along with the editors and anonymous readers of this journal, for their useful suggestions and other contributions to earlier draft versions.