The Indian Ocean was global long before the Atlantic and today the countries bordering the Bay of Bengal—India, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia are home to one in four people on Earth. Crossing the Bay of Bengal places this region at the heart of world history for the first time. Integrating human and environmental history and mining a wealth of sources, Sunil Amrith gives a revelatory and stirring new account of the Bay and those who have inhabited it. For centuries the Bay of Bengal served as a maritime highway between India and China and then as a battleground for European empires, all while being shaped by the monsoons and by human migration. Imperial powers in the nineteenth century, abetted by the force of capital and the power of steam, reconfigured the Bay in their quest for coffee, rice and rubber.
Millions of Indian migrants crossed the sea, bound by debt or spurred by drought and filled with ambition. Booming port cities like Singapore and Penang became the most culturally diverse societies of their time. By the 1930s, however, economic, political and environmental pressures began to erode the Bay’s centuries-old patterns of interconnection.
Today, rising waters leave the Bay of Bengal’s shores especially vulnerable to climate change, at the same time that its location makes it central to struggles over Asia’s future. Amrith’s evocative and compelling narrative of the region’s pasts offers insights critical to understanding and confronting the many challenges facing Asia in the decades ahead.
“When an author with an interesting publication record produces his third monograph, one expects much, and there is no disappointment here. Sunil Amrith consolidates his reputation for intellectual sophistication, a good historian’s sensitivity to detail and a flare for large-scale tale-telling that produces work as page-turning as a novel… He handles the big questions fearlessly and elegantly, deploying oral history, a variety of archives and private collections and a properly global understanding…Read this book for information, for convincing analytic nuance, as a humbling shake-up of one’s worldview, and as a series of heart-stopping tales.” –Caroline Osella, Times Higher Education, 7/11/13
“In refocusing on the Bay and restoring a Braudelian sweep to its history, this nicely written and meticulously researched study could prove as timely as it is instructive.” –John Keay, Literary Review, 1 December 2013
About the Author
Sunil S. Amrith is Mehra Family Professor of South Asian Studies and Professor of History at Harvard University.
Table of Contents
- Prologue: The Bay of Bengal in History
- The Life of the Bay of Bengal
- That Vast Sea’s Emporium
- Turbulent Journeys, Sacred Geographies
- Human Traffic
- Oceans’ Crossroads
- Crossings Interrupted
- The Pursuit of Citizenship
- When the Waters Rise
- Epilogue: Crossing the Bay of Bengal
- List of Abbreviations
- Archives and Special Collections