Leiden Centre for Indian Ocean Studies

The Leiden Centre for Indian Ocean Studies brings together people and methods to study the ‘Indian Ocean World’. Supported by numerous individual and institutional collaborations, we aim to provide a global platform for scholars working on connections and comparisons across this axis of human interaction. We are interested in scholarship that cuts across borders of places, periods and disciplines.

The Indian Ocean has long brought together communities, countries, cultures, ideas and objects. As such, its study has the potential to link the local with the global and build bridges between geographical areas (Africa, Asia, Middle East and Australia) as well as academic disciplines. The Ocean also provides helpful ways of thinking about circulation, mobilities and the littoral societies whose destinies largely depend on it.

The presence of a strong Indian Ocean-focused community within the dynamic scholarly environment of Leiden University, along with IIAS as a global facilitating platform, can paradoxically contribute to re-introducing notions of global interactions and the importance of rehabilitating local agencies in context. Leiden University has historically been crucial to intellectual engagements on the Indian Ocean and today it hosts a great variety of relevant resources and expertise, spread across different departments and disciplines. The Centre not only unites the multitude of local resources, but also links them to national and international experts in the field.

With some exceptions, the study of the Indian Ocean has mainly taken place in Europe and North America. The Centre, however, aims to facilitate interactions between scholars from the Indian Ocean World by co-organizing conferences and workshops with institutions in the region. Such collaborations have been initiated with the University of St Denis, Université de La Réunion, Ibn Battuta Foundation in Colombo, University of Calicut, National University of Singapore, and others.

Thematic Focus

We approach the Indian Ocean in the broadest sense of the term, beyond the geographical determinism faced by conventional Area Studies. Too often, conceptualizations of an Indian Ocean have given precedence to research of a geo-strategic and global economic nature, without much attention given to the historical agencies displayed by the communities that live off or around it. To address these types of connections and mobilities and help cultivate synergies between scholars and projects focusing on the Indian Ocean, our areas of interest include:

  • Climate and ecology
  • Circulations in art, culture, religion and heritage
  • Economic connectivities and socio-political geographies
  • Forced and voluntary mobilities
  • Law, state and society
  • Linguistic and ethnolinguistic connections
  • Networks and circulations of peoples, ideas and ideologies
  • Port-cities, shipping, littoral societies and coastal histories
  • The ‘insular’ versus ‘continental’ Indian Ocean
  • The Indian Ocean as a space of creolization
  • The Indian Ocean ‘in the world’ (global connections, links to the rest of Africa, Middle-East, Americas, Europe, Asia, etc.)