Indian Ocean
Summer Schools

For the last three years, the Center for Interdisciplinary Area Studies (ZIRS) at Martin Luther University, Halle­- Wittenberg (MLU), Germany, and the Center for Global Asia (CGA) at NYU Shanghai have collaborated in offering a series of three interconnected Summer Schools on the topic of “The Indian Ocean World and Eurasian Connections”. The series was funded through a generous grant from the Volkswagen Foundation. Over the years, the Summer Schools have introduced historians, anthropologists, geographers, art historians, and archaeologists to each other in an interdisciplinary spirit of scholarly engagement, discussion, and debate. In this issue of the CGA Newsletter, we have summarized the programs and achievements of the 2017 and 2018 Summer Schools. 

2017 Summer School, Halle, Germany 

The 2017 Summer School, the second of the three planned Summer Schools, was held in Halle, Germany in the building housing the ZIRS. The lead organizers of this Summer School were Professors Tansen Sen and Duane Corpis of NYU Shanghai, and Professor Burkhard Schnepel and Dr. Hanne Schöning of MLU. Eight specialists working at institutions in Germany, China, Australia, Austria, Canada, and South Africa, all conducting research in the field of Indian Ocean studies, delivered lectures and held seminars on specific topics related to the Summer School’s overarching theme. Twenty junior scholars at the doctoral or post-doctoral stages of their careers— mainly from Germany, the United States, and China—were selected to participate in the 2017 Summer School. The theme for the 2017 Summer School was “Connectivity in Motion: People, Ideas, and Animals across the Indian Ocean”. Topics explored during the seven days of lectures and seminars included the economic and political impact of pirates and piracy; the historical role of the monsoon in creating networks of trade and cultural exchange; the movement of animals, ranging from giraffes sent as diplomatic gifts to Central American cochineal insects used to create red textile dyes; and the diffusion of Islam and Buddhism across the region. The diversity of topics intersected around the theme of movement and circulation across networks of connectivity in the Indian Ocean, in which terrestrial and oceanic environmental structures shaped the long-existing trade routes across the region. The networks then assisted in the circulation of human migrants, non-human animal species, technologies, and ideas, as well as trade commodities.

The remarkable success of the 2017 Summer School rested upon the dynamic and interactive engagement of both student participants and scholarly experts. For example, over the course of the week, student participants presented their own on-going research projects to their peers in an open environment of intellectual exchange and dialogue. The NYU-affiliated students and faculty who travelled to Halle consisted of a stellar group of historians, art historians, and anthropologists, including Professor Ismail Fajrie Alatas (NYU); Dr. Alan Crawford (NYU Shanghai Global Perspectives on Society Teaching Fellow); Dr. Ruth de Llobet (Postdoctoral Fellow, CGA); Dr. Tian Mo (Postdoctoral Fellow, CGA); Dr. Ming Zhu (East China Normal University); Hui Fang (PhD candidate, NYU); Joshua Sooter (PhD candidate, NYU); and Arran Walshe (PhD candidate, NYU).

2018 Summer School, Shanghai, China

“The Indian Ocean World and Eurasian Connections” Summer School recently completed its third and final summer of activity. From July 30 through August 12, four instructional faculty members and twenty doctoral and post-doctoral participants from China, Europe, and the United States met in China to engage with this summer’s theme “Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and Contemporary Connectivities of Indian Ocean History”. For two weeks, the participants investigated the cultural, social, and political implications of historical memory, remembrance, reenactment, and commemoration. Topics of discussion included the presentation of the past in museums, shipwreck excavations, memorials and heritage sites, heritage tourism, as well as the preservation of intangible forms of heritage such as cultural practices, rituals, dance, and music. Through a combination of lectures and seminar discussions, the participants explored both theoretical frameworks and empirical examples of heritage production in African and Asian sites around the Indian Ocean world. 

The second week of the 2018 Summer School introduced the participants to the China Maritime Museum and the cities of Nanjing and Quanzhou in order to show them a variety of heritage sites that, as well as be tied to the history of China, were also connected to the broader Eurasian and Indian Ocean world. For example, in Nanjing the group traveled to memorial sites dedicated to the fifteenth-century admiral Zheng He, whose treasure fleets sailed to Southeast and South Asia, and even as far as the east coast of Africa, while in Quanzhou they visited the oldest mosque in the city along with Muslim burial sites, which mark the continuing history of Muslim migrants having lived in the Chinese port city for centuries. 

Three of the core faculty members—Professors Burkhard Schnepel (MLU), Tansen Sen (NYU Shanghai), and Duane Corpis (NYU Shanghai)—participated in all three summer schools, while Dr. Geoff Wade (Australian National University) made his second appearance, and Professor Leksa Lee (NYU Shanghai) joined the team for the first time during the 2018 Summer School. This year, the NYU Global Network supplied an enthusiastic and engaged group of doctoral candidates and post-doctoral researchers who took part in the Summer School, including Dr. Luo Di (Postdoctoral Fellow, CGA); Hui Fang (PhD candidate, NYU); Elizabeth Lee (PhD candidate, NYU); Joshua Sooter (PhD candidate, NYU); Arran Walshe (PhD candidate, NYU), Meng Wei (PhD candidate, NYU), Dr. Kunbing Xiao (CGA-ARC Postdoctoral Fellow); and Dr. Fan Zhang (PhD, NYU and NYU Shanghai Global Perspectives on Society Teaching Fellow).

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