The Africa Institute announces the Indian Ocean region to be the third edition of its ‘country-focused season’—an annual initiative exploring one African country or African diaspora community through a range of scholarly and public programs.

The multi-series conference program titled, “Thinking the Archipelago: Africa’s Indian Ocean Islands” is organized by The Africa Institute in collaboration with leading scholars Jeremy Prestholdt, Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego; Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf, Professor of Anthropology, Georgetown University in Qatar; and Uday Chandra, Assistant Professor of Government, Georgetown University in Qatar.

Indian Ocean Africa has been a critical nexus of global linkages for millennia, and Africa’s islands have occupied a central place in this matrix of connectivity. The Indian Ocean region referred to as the ‘cradle of globalization’ and ‘center stage’ in the contemporary multipolar world, is a cultural continuum facilitated by mobility, belief, aesthetics, exchange, and other practices. Its historical, sociocultural, economic, and geopolitical significance can hardly be overstated.  Half the world’s population lives within fifty miles of its shores, half of the world’s container ship traffic crosses its waters, the majority of the world’s petroleum traverses the basin, and global powers have long competed for regional influence.  In a multipolar world, the geostrategic importance of Indian Ocean Africa is perhaps greater than ever before.  As a result, interest in the Indian Ocean region, including Africa’s role within it, has increased in recent years.

The Indian Ocean region, bounded by the continents of Africa, Asia, and Australia, has borne witness to remarkable circularities since humans began to master seafaring and star navigation.  The monsoon, which brings both seasonal rains and winds for interregional sojourns, has facilitated the integration of the Indian Ocean rim over thousands of years.  Much like other maritime zones, mercantile, religious, and related cosmopolitan linkages have long existed in tension with slavery, indenture, imperialism, and colonialism, all of which have shaped regional societies.  Yet, unlike its Atlantic and Mediterranean counterparts, the Indian Ocean’s unique nexus of translocal relationships has never received the attention it merits.  Moreover, in discussions of the Indian Ocean, Africa has often been relegated to the margins.  In joining the call of scholars, activists, and others to center Africa within studies of global relations, this season of The Africa Institute (2022-2023) emphasizes the importance and cultural vibrance of Indian Ocean African societies, specifically its diverse island communities.

Starting in Fall 2022, this season will highlight the multitudinous forces shaping Africa’s Indian Ocean rim, including overlapping forms of circulation, mobility, cultural production, ecological change, and cosmopolitanism through the lens of Africa’s islands.  Indian Ocean relations have transformed over time, in each instance revealing complex, changing processes of engagement and translation. Diverse travel and migratory waves have enriched poetry, art, literature, religion, and economic exchange along the Indian Ocean’s shores.  Just as important, shifting concepts of gender, race, ethnicity, environmental change, and empire have all shaped Indian Ocean African societies.  These themes deserve consideration not only in comparison with other world regions, but also because forms of interaction, exchange, and alienation have engendered littoral societies with dynamic local identities simultaneously linked to proximate and distant communities.  

Islands have always been integral spaces of Indian Ocean exchanges.  From Madagascar’s immense scale and ecological diversity to Mozambique Island’s compact, urban environment and Mombasa’s centrality to the East African economy, islands have profoundly shaped African history.  As crucial points of contact with societies within and beyond Africa, they have been the primary conduits through which people, goods, and ideas move.  Islands foster particular local identities, and this combination of local dynamism and identity has ensured that islands such as Zanzibar and Lamu are effervescent spaces of cultural production.  Indeed, the particular social environments of islands such as Seychelles, Mauritius, and Comoros have contributed to unique forms of literary production, music, dance, film, and aesthetics, art forms in dialog with continental and more distant societies.  Islands have also faced a range of environmental challenges, from cyclones and tsunamis to rising sea levels and the devastation of marine ecologies as a result of climate change.  But much as with cultural production, modes of adaptation to environmental change over centuries demonstrate the unique vision, initiative, and forms of the resilience of island societies.

In sum, the season Thinking the Archipelago: Africa’s Indian Ocean Islands aims to raise the profile of Indian Ocean societies, bringing the complex history and rich cultural heritage of Indian Ocean Africa’s islands to a wide, international audience.  With an eye toward expanding our appreciation of connections forged across diverse environments and cultures in the context of the monsoon and maritime worlds, this season will highlight Africa’s Indian Ocean islands as uniquely powerful and compelling frames through which to interpret Africa’s history, understand its present, and imagine its future.

The Africa Institute created this annual series to highlight the complex history of the African world while also providing a forum for creatively engaging its present and imagining new futures. Inaugurated with Ethiopia: Modern Nation/Ancient Roots in 2019-2020 followed by Global Ghana in 2021-2022, the country-focused seasons are an integral part of The Africa Institute’s year-round work to develop and support original scholarship and programming that expands understanding of African and African diaspora studies among the academic community and the broader public. 

Click below for more details on each symposium as part of this season:

The Africa Institute announces the Indian Ocean region to be the third edition of its ‘country-focused season’—an annual initiative exploring one African country or African diaspora community through a range of scholarly and public programs.

The Africa Institute announces the Indian Ocean region to be the third edition of its ‘country-focused season’—an annual initiative exploring one African country or African diaspora community through a range of scholarly and public programs.

The multi-series conference program titled, “Thinking the Archipelago: Africa’s Indian Ocean Islands” is organized by The Africa Institute in collaboration with leading scholars Jeremy Prestholdt, Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego; Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf, Professor of Anthropology, Georgetown University in Qatar; and Uday Chandra, Assistant Professor of Government, Georgetown University in Qatar.

Indian Ocean Africa has been a critical nexus of global linkages for millennia, and Africa’s islands have occupied a central place in this matrix of connectivity. The Indian Ocean region referred to as the ‘cradle of globalization’ and ‘center stage’ in the contemporary multipolar world, is a cultural continuum facilitated by mobility, belief, aesthetics, exchange, and other practices. Its historical, sociocultural, economic, and geopolitical significance can hardly be overstated.  Half the world’s population lives within fifty miles of its shores, half of the world’s container ship traffic crosses its waters, the majority of the world’s petroleum traverses the basin, and global powers have long competed for regional influence.  In a multipolar world, the geostrategic importance of Indian Ocean Africa is perhaps greater than ever before.  As a result, interest in the Indian Ocean region, including Africa’s role within it, has increased in recent years.

The Indian Ocean region, bounded by the continents of Africa, Asia, and Australia, has borne witness to remarkable circularities since humans began to master seafaring and star navigation.  The monsoon, which brings both seasonal rains and winds for interregional sojourns, has facilitated the integration of the Indian Ocean rim over thousands of years.  Much like other maritime zones, mercantile, religious, and related cosmopolitan linkages have long existed in tension with slavery, indenture, imperialism, and colonialism, all of which have shaped regional societies.  Yet, unlike its Atlantic and Mediterranean counterparts, the Indian Ocean’s unique nexus of translocal relationships has never received the attention it merits.  Moreover, in discussions of the Indian Ocean, Africa has often been relegated to the margins.  In joining the call of scholars, activists, and others to center Africa within studies of global relations, this season of The Africa Institute (2022-2023) emphasizes the importance and cultural vibrance of Indian Ocean African societies, specifically its diverse island communities.

Starting in Fall 2022, this season will highlight the multitudinous forces shaping Africa’s Indian Ocean rim, including overlapping forms of circulation, mobility, cultural production, ecological change, and cosmopolitanism through the lens of Africa’s islands.  Indian Ocean relations have transformed over time, in each instance revealing complex, changing processes of engagement and translation. Diverse travel and migratory waves have enriched poetry, art, literature, religion, and economic exchange along the Indian Ocean’s shores.  Just as important, shifting concepts of gender, race, ethnicity, environmental change, and empire have all shaped Indian Ocean African societies.  These themes deserve consideration not only in comparison with other world regions, but also because forms of interaction, exchange, and alienation have engendered littoral societies with dynamic local identities simultaneously linked to proximate and distant communities.  

Islands have always been integral spaces of Indian Ocean exchanges.  From Madagascar’s immense scale and ecological diversity to Mozambique Island’s compact, urban environment and Mombasa’s centrality to the East African economy, islands have profoundly shaped African history.  As crucial points of contact with societies within and beyond Africa, they have been the primary conduits through which people, goods, and ideas move.  Islands foster particular local identities, and this combination of local dynamism and identity has ensured that islands such as Zanzibar and Lamu are effervescent spaces of cultural production.  Indeed, the particular social environments of islands such as Seychelles, Mauritius, and Comoros have contributed to unique forms of literary production, music, dance, film, and aesthetics, art forms in dialog with continental and more distant societies.  Islands have also faced a range of environmental challenges, from cyclones and tsunamis to rising sea levels and the devastation of marine ecologies as a result of climate change.  But much as with cultural production, modes of adaptation to environmental change over centuries demonstrate the unique vision, initiative, and forms of the resilience of island societies.

In sum, the season Thinking the Archipelago: Africa’s Indian Ocean Islands aims to raise the profile of Indian Ocean societies, bringing the complex history and rich cultural heritage of Indian Ocean Africa’s islands to a wide, international audience.  With an eye toward expanding our appreciation of connections forged across diverse environments and cultures in the context of the monsoon and maritime worlds, this season will highlight Africa’s Indian Ocean islands as uniquely powerful and compelling frames through which to interpret Africa’s history, understand its present, and imagine its future.

The Africa Institute created this annual series to highlight the complex history of the African world while also providing a forum for creatively engaging its present and imagining new futures. Inaugurated with Ethiopia: Modern Nation/Ancient Roots in 2019-2020 followed by Global Ghana in 2021-2022, the country-focused seasons are an integral part of The Africa Institute’s year-round work to develop and support original scholarship and programming that expands understanding of African and African diaspora studies among the academic community and the broader public. 

Click below for more details on each symposium as part of this season:

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