Sebastian Prange

 
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Associate Professor

Research Classification

History of Major Eras, Great Civilisations or Geographical Corpuses
Religious Systems
Life and Economic Production
Social Organization and Political Systems

Research Interests

History of Capitalism
Economic History
Trade and Trade Diasporas
Islam
South Asia
Indian Ocean

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Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters

 
 

Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
How to dissect an elephant: Surgeons, clergymen, local informants and the production of knowledge at Fort St. George, 1690-1730 (2014)

Fort St George, Madras, on the Coromandel Coast of India, served as a key site for European natural philosophical knowledge production in the period 1690-1730. As a colonial port city at the centre of cosmopolitan networks of trade under the English East India Company, Fort St George can be considered a “contact zone.” In this space, interactions between European surgeons and clergymen stationed at the Fort, and local Tamil, Telugu and Malawanlu informants had particular implications for the natural philosophical, natural historical, geographic and ethnographic knowledge produced there. While questions around local informants and the hybridisation of knowledge in colonial contexts are becoming a priority in the scholarship of science and empire, the mechanisms operating in these interactions remain underexplored. This paper works to address this by reconstructing cross-cultural knowledge-making interactions between Europeans and Indians at Fort St George, highlighting the way that Europeans treated information from local informants in a dual sense, seeing it as containing potentially useful practical information embedded in flawed religious or cultural explanations. This attitude guided the way Europeans selected and recorded local knowledge, but was only ever applied imperfectly. Indeed, this paper argues that there was an ongoing tension between the ways Europeans intentionally appropriated local information, and the unintended infiltration of Indian cultural knowledge into European natural philosophical accounts. Exploring the particular dynamic of knowledge production that emerged in the contact zone at Fort St George reminds us why we must consider local contexts more closely if we are to properly understand the European natural philosophical project of cataloguing the globe and its imperial implications at the turn of the eighteenth century.

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Publications

  • MONSOON ISLAM: Trade and Faith on the Medieval Malabar Coast (2018)
    Cambridge University Press,
  • The Pagan King Replies: An Indian Perspective on the Portuguese Arrival in India (2017)
    Itinerario,
  • The Contested Sea: Regimes of Maritime Violence in the Pre-Modern Indian Ocean (2013)
    Journal of Early Modern History,
  • A Trade of No Dishonor: Piracy, Commerce, and Community in the Western Indian Ocean, Twelfth to Sixteenth Century (2011)
    American Historical Review,
  • Measuring by the bushel: Reweighing the Indian Ocean Pepper Trade (2011)
  • Like Banners on the Sea: Muslim Trade Networks and Islamization in Malabar and maritime Southeast Asia (2009)
  • Scholars and the Sea: A Historiography of the Indian Ocean (2008)
  • Trust in God - but tie your camel first. The economic organization of the trans-Saharan slave trade between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries (2006)
 
 

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