Cloth, Commerce and Colonialism: Framing the Cultural and Commercial Interactions in the Indian Ocean World

ANU South Asia Research Centre Seminar


Prof Vijaya Ramaswamy, Centre for Historical Studies in the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi


Institutes Boardroom, 1.12 Coombs Extension Building (8), Fellows Road, Australian National University


Thursday, 29 June, 2017 - 10:30 to 12:00


Ideas and commerce recognize no boundaries.  The movement of commerce along the seas, could and effectively did, cut across territories in pre-modern times.  Today, of course, traders moving on the high seas have to be much more cautious about transgressing territorial waters.  Words and the literary worlds they represented assumed different forms in different geo-physical regions represented by different continents with completely different cultures.  

 As traders moved, a whole world view moved with them embedded usually in the objects of trade.  If one could take a prime example of such trans-mutations and transformations, it would be in the domain of textiles which moved through the Indian Ocean Trade, in the process acquiring a social and cultural life of its own.

This lecture, without attempting to ambitiously map the theoretical underpinning of the concept of the Global South will focus on this cultural intermeshing that occurs in the course of the movement of trade and traders in the Indian Ocean World with particular focus on the colonial intervention in trade patterns. It is significant that both India and Australia come together in the international association for cooperation among the Rim States of the Indian Ocean (Indian Ocean Rim Association IORA)


Bio: Vijaya Ramaswamy

Vijaya Ramaswamy is a professor at the Centre for Historical Studies in the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University,New Delhi. She is also currently Chairperson of the Centre.

Vijaya Ramaswamy is an alumni of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and was a Fulbright Fellow at the University of California Berkeley in California in 1988–1989. She was teacher-fellow on an Indo-Canadian Fellowship at York University, Ontario, Canada, in 1998. Between1992-95, she was a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advance Study. From 2012 to 2014 she was Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, (NMML).

Ramaswamy’s most recent books (both edited volumes) are Migrations in Medieval and Early Colonial India (Routledge, London,2016) and Women and Work in Pre-Colonial India (Sage, 2016).  Prior to these is her edited collection Devotion and Dissent in Indian History from Foundation Books, Cambridge University Press, 2014. Her interest in anthropology and folklore led to her book The Song of the Loom: Weaver Folk Traditions, published by Primus in 2013. The Historical Dictionary of the Tamils published by the Scarecrow Press Inc, Lanham, Maryland, was brought out in May 2007. Her A to Z of the Tamils: The A to Z Guide Series, No.136, was published by the Scarecrow Press, UK, in 2010. The third edition of The Historical Dictionary of the Tamils is due in September, 2017. Among her best known publications are: Textiles and Weavers in Medieval South India, Oxford University Press, 1sted.1985, 2nd ed.2006  and  Walking Naked: Women, Society, Spirituality in South India, IIAS, Shimla, 1997 and 2007. Oxford University Press  published her second book, Divinity and Deviance: Women in Virasaivism, in 1996. In 2003, she published her first edited book, Re-searching Indian Women, (Manohar Publisher in New Delhi). In the same year, she was elected president of the medieval India section of the 63rd Indian History Congress held in Mysore. In 2009 her co-edited book Biography as History: Indian Perspectives, came out from Oriental Black Swan.  Outside her own academic field, her special interests are in philosophy, spiritual texts and the pursuit of Sanskrit studies. She speaks Sanskrit, English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam with a fair degree of fluency. 


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