Ocean Bombay: Space, Itinerancy, and Community in an Imperial Port City, 1839-1945


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




“Ocean Bombay” is a social history of a port city, lying at the intersection of modern South Asian history, Indian Ocean studies, and urban studies. It argues that the formation of communities as orders of belonging in colonial Bombay was shaped by the itinerant and maritime lives of many of its residents. Between 1839 and 1945, Sidi shipworkers, Bombay-Aden merchants, Irani cafe owners, nomadic groups, publishers, filmmakers, and actresses all staked their belonging in Bombay city by tracing their transoceanic genealogies of travel, instead of birth. As the colonial state sought increasingly to define borders—of both nations and communities—these itinerant people responded with strategies of accommodation and retaliation. This dissertation locates Bombay society at the intersection of these oceanic geographies, through an archive built from fragments and interviews collected across India, the United Kingdom, and Iran.