A Sea of Debt: Histories of Commerce and Obligation in the Western Indian Ocean, 1850-1940


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation is a history of obligation and economic life in the Western Indian Ocean during the nineteenth and early-twentieth century. It examines how members of a cosmopolitan commercial society expressed debt relationships with one another through written deeds and how they utilized them to circumvent Islamic commercial prescriptions. At the same time, it looks at the concomitant development of an Indian Ocean-wide empire of law centered at Bombay, and explores how this Indian Ocean contractual culture encountered an Anglo-Indian legal regime that conceived of obligation in a radically different way. By mobilizing written deeds in imaginative ways, Indian Ocean merchants were able to shape the contours of this changing legal regime.