Transnationalisms and the Modern Indian Ocean: South Asians in East and Southern African History

AHA Session 87
Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room 205 (Hynes Convention Center)
Sunil Amrith, Birkbeck College, University of London
Sunil Amrith, Birkbeck College, University of London

Session Abstract

Historians of a variety of regional specializations have long researched patterns of migration and traffic in the early modern Indian Ocean. Within the early modern, and increasingly, the nineteenth century historiography, Indians in various locations around the Southeast Asian and African nodes of Indian Ocean culture have emerged as the subject of renewed historical investigation. However, the precise developments shaping the Indian communities of Eastern and Southern African locations, such as colonial East Africa and South Africa, have yet to enjoy sustained historical research, particularly in the late colonial and early post-colonial periods of the twentieth century. Marginalized by both African and South Asian historians, Indian communities of diverse origins often played pivotal roles in imperial locales in East and South Africa, yet their numbers often have been too small compared to other populations to find sustained mention in South Asian or African historical literatures.   This panel contributes a variety of empirical and analytical contributions to this under-researched topic by studying the logistical, cultural, and political patterns of Indian politics and culture in late colonial and post-colonial East Africa and South Africa. Sana Aiyar’s “Anti-colonial Homelands: The Politics of the Indian Diaspora in Kenya c.1930-1950” analyzes the diasporic subjectivity of Kenyan Indians by situating them in the realm of Indian Ocean political interactions as they mediated between anti-colonial nationalisms in India and Kenya. Gerard McCann argues for the centrality of local concerns amidst increasing Indian connections in “The development of South Asian communalism in Kenya.” Neilesh Bose’s paper, titled “Performing History and Producing “Culture”: Ronnie Govender's 1949 and the Romanticism of Indian South African History” details comparable processes in South Africa, whereby Indian activists had shaped a romantic vision of Indian political identity compatible with local South African concerns. This panel aims to expand the vista of South Asian history by placing diasporic South Asians directly into the narratives of modern South Asian political transitions. Additionally, the panel will update currently held notions of African history by enabling reflection on the role of Indians within colonialism and decolonization in Africa.

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