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Dynamics of Oceanic Regions

Kanakalatha Mukund

Edited by Rila Mukherjee
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2013, pp. xvi 286, Rs. 995.00


Oceans have always represented the vast unknown, and been the gateways for exploring uncharted territories and new worlds. New discoveries and improved technology led to the era of colonization and global capitalism, creating a more closely connected inter-dependent world. For historians, oceans have opened new vistas for research. Heavily influenced by Fernand Braudel’s work on the Mediterranean, for several decades historians have focused on maritime history, exploring the dynamics of ocean regions as culturally and commercially interconnected spaces.   More recently, maritime history has been extended and metamorphosed into oceanic studies. Paul Bryce, in the first paper in this volume under review, explains how oceanic studies differ from maritime history. Maritime history, he argues, is about ‘maritime areas bounded and defined by contiguous landmasses’ which ‘often artificially restrict or distort the true seafaring range and seaborne interactions of maritime peoples.’ He also adds that colonial rule and historiography ‘have accentuated this continental perspective, by further dividing sea worlds into worlds perceived to be discrete, restricted and controlled spaces, unified by the language of the colonizer’ (p. 23). One objective of oceanic studies is to correct this distorted perspective, and in effect, ‘decolonize’ the history of maritime peoples.   The collection of papers in this book concentrates on the theme ‘Oceans Connect’, on the linkages and networks which have existed across oceans. The volume begins with an overview by Rila Mukherjee of the papers and issues raised by various scholars. Paul Bryce’s paper is the first in the book and points to the Philippines which, both as a nation and an archipelago, is ‘an ideal location for reconceptualizing maritime history and decolonizing regional history.’ The main thrust of his argument is that colonial rule, first by Spain and later by the United States, has deprived the Philippines of its age-old natural maritime links, both geographically and culturally, with the Pacific islands of Micronesia, Guam and Marinara. Instead the Philippines is now linked strategically and economically with China and the United States, a linkage which is essentially artificial. This distortion can be corrected by reorienting and decolonizing the history of the Philippines. But, I wonder, does the fact that the Philipphine islands had much in common with the Pacific islands preclude the possibility of trade and other relations with China (which had always been the major superpower of the region, both politically and economically) or the rest of South East Asia even prior ...

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