Sebastian Prange

Associate Professor

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Changing perspectives on Indian Ocean cityscapes : the port city of Calicut in the early modern period (2023)

This dissertation examines the changing notions of urbanism in the context of the early modern Indian Ocean world. Its primary focus is on the port city of Calicut, in southwestern India, which was the primary trade hub for one of the most sought-after commodities, black pepper. As a result, the city was one of the most vibrant commercial centers in all of maritime Asia and became a cosmopolitan locus not only for economic but also for social and cultural interactions. However, scholars have long held that with the arrival of European powers in the Indian Ocean, Calicut began a commercial and cultural decline, and by the end of the seventeenth century had lost its status as one of the preeminent urban centers of the Indian Ocean world.My research reveals how this seemingly innocuous assumption is rooted in a particular vision of progress and modernity that was projected onto urban sites across Asia by European observers and later historians. Indian Ocean port cities such as Calicut, which did not attract European colonial settlements, or even actively resisted them, came to be represented in contrast to the new, supposedly “modern” colonial cities. It is this dichotomy that is ultimately responsible for the false notion that Asia’s non-European port cities went into terminal decline during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As this dissertation demonstrates, in fact, the opposite proves true: long-established emporia such as Calicut continued to prosper, and in some cases even expand, as hubs of non-European as well as anti-European commercial and political networks that traversed the Indian Ocean well into the early modern period.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Sovereign myths and the realities of material diplomacy: British and princely Indian gift-giving in the late 19th century (2022)

Current scholarship on British and princely Indian gift-giving presents it as at first a negotiation and manipulation in the eighteenth century and then an elimination of the ambiguities of gift-giving by 1858 when India came under the rule of the British Crown. However, through a discursive and symbolic analysis of a diplomatic gift to the Queen of Britain from the titular Maharaja of Mysore and the British precedent set in 1861 for British and princely Indian gift-giving in the latter half of the nineteenth century, this diplomatic and bureaucratic dominance turns into a contested issue of sovereignty wherein the Maharaja subverted colonial expectations and myths of sovereignty within the material and legal spheres while the British sought to conflate treaties, grants, and gifts into the notion of the “true gift.” Gift-giving continued to play a central role in the negotiations around sovereignty in late nineteenth-century colonial India, yet the British efforts to manage the meaning of exchange, such as categorizing ornate objects as tokens or souvenirs of a personal nature, obscured the continuation of the diplomatic practice within the policy of indirect rule.

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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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