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EN2M3/EN3M3 - Modernity at Sea: Indian Ocean Literatures

Tutor: Dr Rashmi Varma


Wed 10-11:30

Course Description:

The last two decades or so have seen intensifying interest in oceanic literatures. The ocean as a spatial concept challenges the nation-centric understanding of literary traditions, and has emerged as key to the debates about world- literature and the capitalist world-system as well. This will be the first module in the English Department to use the Indian Ocean as a dynamic site from where literatures of Asia and Africa can be read.

For long, the nation and its geographical territory has served as the locus of postcolonial literature and literary theory. After all, reclaiming land and national culture was an important part of anti-colonial resistance movements. This module attempts to ask similar questions of resistance and identity formation in the postcolonial world but shifts the site of modern world-making from the nation to the ocean that surrounds and connects different nations, cultures and languages. In particular, the module will focus on the Indian Ocean to think about the literary histories of colonialism, imperialism, anti-colonial resistance and the forging of political consciousness through waves of migration and the flow of ideas, cultures, languages, texts and commodities. Although the Atlantic Ocean has been key to the study of literatures of the Americas and histories of slavery, conceptualised by Paul Gilroy as the Black Atlantic, the Indian Ocean has not received the same attention in charting routes of indenture and colonisation, as of trade and translation. This module will focus on texts written by writers such as Joseph Conrad, Amitav Ghosh, Abdulrazak Gurnah and Lindsey Collen to explore how these writers interrogate experiences of modernity by the sea and at sea.


1 Essay (50%) Due: Term 1, Week 11

1 Research Project (50%) Due: Term 2, Week 4


The reading list can be accessed here: Talis Aspire

You may need to purchase Lindsey Collins' Mutiny as it is not yet available in the Library.


Week 1: Introduction
Recommended Reading: Isabel Hofmeyer, “The Complicating Sea: The Indian Ocean as Method.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 32, no. 3, 2012, pp. 584-90.

Week 2: The Cosmopolitan Histories of the Indian Ocean
Amitav Ghosh, In an Antique Land
Recommended Reading: Excerpts from Moretti, F. 2005. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. New York: Verso.

Week 3: Oceans of Empire
Joseph Conrad, Typhoon
Secondary Reading: Excerpts from Bose, S. 2006. A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire

Week 4: Migrant Oceans
Abdulrazak Gurnah, By the Sea
Secondary Reading: Excerpts from Ho, E. The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean. Berkeley: University of California Press (2006)

Week 5: Watery Histories
Romesh Gunasekhara, Reef (1994)
Secondary Reading: Chari, S. Subaltern sea? Indian Ocean errantry against subalternization. In Subaltern Geographies, ed. T. Jazeel, and S. Legg, 191–209. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press (2019)


Week 7: Oceanic Feelings
Yvonne Owour, The Dragonfly Sea (2019)
Secondary Reading: Verne, J., and M. Verne. 2017. Introduction: The Indian Ocean as aesthetic space. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 37: 314–320.

Week 8: Waves of Connections
Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being
Secondary Reading: Chakravarti, R. 2015. Vibrant thalassographies of the Indian Ocean: Beyond nation states. Studies in History 31: 235–248.

Week 9: The Shipwreck of Neo-colonialism
Lindsey Collen, Mutiny (2011)
Secondary Reading: Excerpts from Anderson, C. 2012. Subaltern Lives: Biographies of Colonialism in the Indian Ocean World, 1790–1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Week 10: Surfing Sounds and Images
Eric Haney, "Cameras and the Indian Ocean" (
Digital archives of Indian Ocean photography
Iconographic Library of the Indian Ocean
Sailors and Daughters: Early Photography and the Indian Ocean