It is widely acknowledged that Orientalist notions of political economy were marred by geographic determinism. From Marx to Wittfogel, generic concepts such as the “Asiatic mode of production,” the “hydraulic state” or “Oriental despotism” involved simplistic observations relating to climate and, particularly, the presence of large rivers and alluvial plains which were invoked to explain essential and persistent differences with the West.See R. Inden, “Orientalist Constructions of India,” Modern Asian Studies 20,3 (1986):422–23. Considering its overwhelmingly important role in this earlier literature, it is remarkable that the historical geography of the rivers and riverplains of the Indian Ocean has not yet been explored in any depth. It is perhaps to avoid being stung by charges of determinism that historians of India and the Indian Ocean area in recent decades have, if anything, downplayed the importance of geography. And, as W. A. McDougall has recently argued, it appears as if current thinking in general has become “suspicious of a subject [geography] that emphasizes distinctions among regions, invites unflattering comparisons and hierarchy among nations and cultures, and has been used in the past as an intellectual tool of empire.”W. A. McDougall, “You Can't Argue with Geography,” essay excerpted from a paper commissioned by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation as part of the History- Geography Project for publication in the Middle States Yearbook 2001. On the neglect of geography, see also E. W. Fox, History in Geographic Perspective: The Other France (New York 1971); E. G. Genovese and L. Hochberg, eds., Geographic Perspectives in History: Essays in Honor of Edward Whiting Fox (Oxford, and Cambridge, Mass. 1989). By and large, what K. N. Chaudhuri observed in 1978 still holds true: “There can be few aspects of Indian studies more neglected than that of historical geography.”K. N. Chaudhuri, “Some Reflections on the Town and the Country in Mughal India,” Modern Asian Studies 12,1 (1978):77. In two later works, Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge 1985) and Asia before Europe: Economy and Civilisation of the Indian Ocean from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge 1990), Chaudhuri made some attempts to remedy this situation, but they are faint. The aim of this essay is to re-introduce a geographic dimension in the history of the Indian Ocean area—one that is not overly deterministic and helps to account not only for continuities but also for changes in social and economic organization over an extended period of time.