This multi-disciplinary international conference aims to bring together scholars from across the humanities and social sciences to share findings, methodologies and theoretical perspectives on cloth’s critical role in driving exchanges in the Indian Ocean World from early times to the present day.
Oceans have emerged as promising intellectual frameworks for reinterpreting past and present spatial and temporal constructs. The Indian Ocean World (IOW) in particular has recently attracted academic attention as a space of movement and inter-relation that transcends conventional paradigms centring on the nation state, regional studies, and European empires. Stretching from East Africa through the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia to China, the IOW forms a unique macro-region where the monsoon regime of winds and currents largely moulded production and exchange. Indeed, the IOW emerged during the first millennium CE as arguably the first “global” economy, defined as a sophisticated and durable system of long-distance exchange. There is further debate as to the impact on the IOW trading structure of Europeans from the sixteenth century, the international economy of the nineteenth century, European colonialism and its aftermath, and modern globalisation.
Central to these debates is the role of textiles. For centuries, cloths of various origins, fibres, colours and patterns have been carried along coasts and across vast distances to communities that demanded certain types in accordance with their specific cultural, social and political universes. Rather than take a particular fibre, ‘country’ or European company as the unit of study, this conference aims to explore the broader cross-currents of textile flows in the IOW. It seeks to explore, in particular, structures of trade, distribution, demand, marketing and consumption – in all of which finance and credit played vital roles. It also strives to understand local consumer demand as a vital force in shaping the economic, political, social, and artistic history in both producer and consumer communities. Emerging from the wider scholarship of culturally inflected material histories of the movement and exchange of commodities, the study of textile consumption and the logics of consumer tastes, as socially and culturally embedded processes, can offer compelling insight into how societies, communities and people create and maintain identities through strategies of self-fashioning, and thereby shape the world around them. Moreover, it is when studied within the same analytical frame as the production, distribution and marketing of textiles that consumption can contribute most profoundly to an understanding of the dynamics of the worlds of the Indian Ocean stretching from Africa to East Asia.
This multi-disciplinary international conference invites paper proposals that examine any aspect of the trade, exchange and consumption of textiles in the Indian Ocean world from early times to the present day. We particularly welcome papers that explore networks and structures of:
- local finance and credit
- distribution and marketing
- demand and consumption
and within these the significance of (i) gender and age; and (ii) religious practice and ideology (including the ritual, political and social uses and meanings attached to imported cloth)