The Newsletter 71 Summer 2015

Sailing the waves of convergence: cultural links and continuities across the Bay of Bengal

Tom Hoogervorst

Amidst the global decline of Area Studies, the Bay of Bengal is booming. The past decade has seen numerous monographs, seminars and conferences devoted to this part of Asia, often with titles containing the words ‘crossing’, ‘transcending’, ‘crossroads’ or ‘passageways’. Indeed, in order to make sense of the past and present of this vibrant part of the world – encompassing Asia’s two largest democracies and a range of states long thought of as ‘problematic’, yet currently lifted by the optimism of economic development and democratization – it has proven essential to cross the boundaries of nation-states as well as academic disciplines. The one-day symposium Sailing the Waves of Convergence was another modest step in this direction. This event served as an opportunity for a group of predominantly early-career scholars to present their research on transnational networks and cultural contact across the Bay of Bengal, foregrounding agents that have largely remained outside the European gaze and, therefore, outside the canon of conventional historiography. With a slight predilection to pre-modern and early modern times, the participants shared a refreshing mix of perspectives on the dispersal of religions, ideologies, artefacts, language and literature and their genealogies to better documented times. Presenters covered a wide range of geographical and disciplinary backgrounds, yet were connected by a shared desire to bring focus to the full range of human activities connecting the shore