Concept Note

Baines, Thomas; A Baobab near the Bank of the Lue; Collection of the Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew;

‘A Baobab near the Bank of the Lue’ by Thomas Baines. 1859. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The Indian Ocean is a connecting space with dynamic ties creating, beyond time and space, a vibrant domain of interlinkednetworks. The dimension and vitality of commercial, political and cultural connectionsgive a hint, as Michael N. Pearson mentioned it, at an
“Indian Ocean World that can be studied as a unit” (Pearson, M. (ed.), Trade, circulation and flow in the Indian Ocean World, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Yet borderlines of this gigantic maritime world (the littorals) played various roles in the dynamic morphogenesis of this complex network. Fertile and productive Gujarat acted as an uninterrupted driving force, engaging strong economic movements in the Indian Ocean World. The last edition of the DIN Symposia on Maritime History of Gujarat (‘Trans-Regional trade and Traders’, Surat, December 2015) clearly highlighted the strength of Gujarati trade networks along the coast of Gujarat, into main land, as well as across the entire Indian Ocean. It also showed the diversity of commercial communities, and their close relationships with other merchant and non-merchant groups.

Trade also implied or was carried out along other activities. Ships carried, besides merchandises, diverse voyagers, pilgrims, and scholars, as well as art works, books, letters, manuscripts, plants, seeds, animals and even unnoticed objects and microorganisms. Last but not least, old and new ideas in many domains (for instance, in the realm of art, architecture, ship-building, science, and spirituality, among other domains) were also carried over along the sea lanes. It was therefore seldom trade alone that shaped Gujarat over the centuries. Through taking part in the Indian Ocean networks – and at times driving them forward – Gujarat in this way became a knowledge hub continuously powered through the very dynamics of its far-flung maritime trade. This stimulating environment helped Gujaratis develop a particular attentiveness towards the Other, and an unusual aptitude to meet the unknown. That wide-ranging process has left its manifold traces not only in Gujarat’s diverse heritage, but also in the Gujarati physical and human landscape, urban spaces, countryside and littorals.

The rich and variegated movements of the land and ocean converging into Gujarat through trade therefore open new vistas for research in the Indian Ocean World in fields as varied as anthropology, agriculture, arts & crafts, botany, biology, palynology, demographics, medicine, philosophy, sociology of labour and migration, as well as the sociology of religion. Though the list of fields offered here is hardly exhaustive, we invite original contributions that focus on Gujarat as an oceanic and land knowledge hub in any of its aspects. Rather than providing the space for a full, comprehensive historical inventory, the aim of this conference is to offer new, path-breaking perspectives onto the past, present, and future of Gujarat that can eventually help reshape the understanding of the region in ways that are novel and profitable to its inhabitants. Therefore, the main emphasis here is on offering new vistas on Gujarat and its unique role in (re) shaping knowledge.


The themes and questions that we seek to address are:

1.    Intellectual transfers. Science and religion.
This theme will especially look into the communication and movements of cultural, philosophical and scientific theories and practices (pilgrimages, movements of religious theories and practices, exchanges of scientific and artistic knowledge).

2.    Labour, skill and migrations
This theme questions the movement of skilled and unskilled labour, the technical transfers, and the cultural result of these migrations.

3.    Microbiology and botanic exchanges.
We wish to give a particular attention to the shaping of the landscape due to accidental botanical transfers and intentional introduction of foreign essences. This theme will also discuss sanitary consequences of microbiological transfers.


Dr. Sara Keller
Scientific coordinator