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Rozakis-Siu Johanna

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Phd project: "Oceans of Empire: Transformation and Continuities in the 16th and 17th century Indian Ocean"

My dissertation project with the working title “Oceans of Empire: Transformation and Continuities in the 16th and 17th century Indian Ocean” focuses on the Western Indian Ocean between the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Western Indian Coast shaped over centuries by mobility, trade, and transoceanic familiarity. The dissertation seeks to investigate how life in this interconnected world of the Indian Ocean was transformed through the arrival and establishment of three major foreign empires at its shores in the course of the 16th century, that is the Portuguese Estado da Índia, the Ottoman empire, and the Mughals. This shall be done through the lens of those active in and mobile between Gujarat, Hormuz, Goa, and Mecca, merchants, pilgrims, scholars, urban elites, local authorities, and others who were faced with the challenge to navigate their own various interests in imperial and inter-imperial spaces that altered the political, religious, and economic frameworks.

With this approach, my dissertation project seeks to contribute to a better and more multidimensional understanding of the 16th century in the Indian Ocean, and the significance of the age of empires for its inhabitants. In historiography, the arrival of the Portuguese is widely regarded as an important turning point for the Indian Ocean world. However, while the traditional narrative, which states that the Portuguese had introduced a previously unknown level of violence and domination to this area is long abandoned, an alternative explanation that qualifies the meaning of the Portuguese arrival as a turning point, is still missing. Looking at a large variety of state, as well as non-state groups of actors and individuals, this research project aims to contribute to exploring this open question.

Through broadening the traditional view on the 16th and 17th centuries focusing on the Portuguese a main and most important, dominating empire, by widening the focus to the Ottoman and Mughal empires, I will add more, and previously in historiography little regarded dimensions to the complex. Traditionally conceived as land-based in nature, both Islamic empires and their relevance to the maritime world of the Western Indian Ocean have received little attention by scholars, even though both Ottomans and Mughals held sovereignty over important centres of trade and mobility such as the Red Sea and Gujarat, were invested in maritime developments, and posed an authority local and trans-maritime actors had no choice but to deal with. Adding their important dimension to the narrative means that this dissertation research will be based on primary sources in not just Portuguese, but also Persian language and Ottoman Turkish.