Cattle egret in Gorai, a fishing village in Mumbai, India. Photo credit: Byron Gray, 2020.

Indian Ocean

The 2022-23 academic year will focus on the Indian Ocean, featuring courses, lectures, exhibits, screenings, and performances that engage with the societies, cultures, geographies, and histories of the Indian Ocean world.


Indonesian Ocean Justice Initiative

In 2017, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) and many of its participating companies, which comprise a majority of the canned tuna sector, signed the Tuna Traceability Declaration, in which they committed to eliminating modern slavery from their supply chains. Further, ISSF Conservation Measure 9.1 requires the participating companies to publicly disclose its policy to address forced labor in its supply chain. Over the past two years, our multidisciplinary, international team has engaged in multi-stakeholder co-design processes to develop pathways for helping companies fulfill and implement these commitments. We combine Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions’ (COS) expertise in fisheries, ocean management, and ocean policy with the Stanford Center for Human Rights and International Justice’s (CHRIJ) expertise in human rights and human trafficking, alongside direct input from workers via the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), an independent think tank that supports the Government of Indonesia with evidence-based policy advice on ocean governance.  Our team also includes Fifty-Eight, an organization that develops technologies for reducing modern slavery in supply chains, including Just Good Work, an application that has some functionalities related to the platform we will be developing.

Through interviews, workers emphasized the centrality of contract and payment issues to exploitative experiences linked to modern slavery. We are now in the initial phases of building a platform that focuses on addressing exploitation related to contracts and payments with functionalities that center both workers’ and companies’ needs, while being cognizant of relevant legal and regulatory frameworks.

The pilot will have three primary goals: test and refine usability of the platform by key stakeholder groups, achieve buy-in and uptake among the various parties in the pre-processing segment of the supply chain, and pave the way for scalability and transferability to other sectors and geographies. We are working with three large tuna companies – Bumble Bee, Thai Union, and Starkist– to design and operationalize our pilot. To ensure scalability, we will focus on ensuring we have adequately captured key dimensions of variability so that our platform has broad applicability. 

Oceanic Imaginaries and Economies

This year, the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies' annual theme will focus on “Oceanic Imaginaries and Economies.” Oceans are timeless representations of expanse, exchange, ecology and connectivity. We are pleased to partner with SGS to feature courses, exhibits, and performances that engage with the cultures, geographies, and histories of the Indian Ocean world.

The Abbasi Program will explore Indian and Atlantic oceanic exchanges, through the lens of the political economies and histories of Muslim societies. What does it mean to move people, ideas, goods across space? How do such exchanges grow and evolve over time? Does the ocean reify or disrupt borders? What does the “ebb and flow” of economic and cultural exchange look like across time and differing Muslim societies?  



AFRICAST 115: Excavating Enslavement
Spring 2023

This is a project-based course, intended to scaffold a joint initiative, Aftermaths of Enslavement: curating legacies publicly. Both course and project seek to better understand enslaved pasts by (a) curating materials that advance scholarly research, using technologies that maximize access and utility; and (b) by developing learning materials for schools and popular audiences by working with heritage professionals and teachers. The focus is on the Indian Ocean World, particularly the Cape (South Africa) and Mauritius, within global and comparative frameworks. Readings for each week will juxtapose Cape and other slave systems. Project partners and other guests will join individual sessions. Students unable to attend the sessions should contact the instructor to discuss asynchronous alternatives. Learn more.

GLOBAL 112: Oceans and the Global Imaginary
Krish Seetah, Spring 2023

This course brings together various social, climatic, and ecological perspectives to seek a better understanding of the relationships between people and the sea. Our oceans constitute some 70% of the surface area of our planet; they connect continents, countless islands, and form a universal link between geographically vast regions and culturally diverse peoples. Our oceans are critical to the health of our planet, and to humanity, and it is this interdependent relationship that forms the basis of this course. Taking a genuinely global viewpoint, we will explore the dynamic nature of peoples' interactions with their maritime landscape and seascape. The course will draw on a wide range of social science and natural science data and approaches to assess how we traversed and explored the seas; how the seas have been an enduring source of nutrition; and how they have come to garner immense social and cultural significance to peoples around the world. The course looks at the unique features of the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans, using case studies from each, while drawing lines that connect these vast oceanic basins. Ultimately, the course emphasizes the challenges facing our oceans as humanity's impact reaches unprecedented levels and considers how people and oceans in partnership might help mitigate the damage climate change has wrought on our planet. Learn more.

HISTORY 8S: Whales, Bombs, & the Race to the Bottom: Oceanic Histories of Law, Environmentalism, & Human Rights
Sonya Schoenberger, Spring 2023

Oceans cover two thirds of the world's surface and play a vital role in global carbon storage, biodiversity, and food stocks. But who owns the oceans and their resources? And what rights and duties do countries, corporations, and individuals have at sea? In this course, we will examine histories of commercial fishing and whaling, nuclear testing, seabed mining, human rights at sea, and sea-level rise as avenues for understanding developments in international law over the course of the 20th century. Learn more.

ANTHRO 129C: A Deep Dive Into the Indian Ocean: From Prehistory to the Modern Day 
Krish Seetah, Winter 2023

The Indian Ocean has formed an enduring connection between three continents, countless small islands and a multitude of cultural and ethnic groups and has become the focus of increasing interest in this geographically vast and culturally diverse region. This course explores a range of topics and issues, from the nature and dynamics of colonization and cultural development as a way of understanding the human experience in this part of the world, to topics such as religion, disease, and heritage. The course guides studies in the many ways in which research in the Indian Ocean has a direct impact on our ability to compare developments in the Atlantic and Pacific. Significant work outside of class time is expected of the student for this course. Learn more.

COMPLIT 368A: Imagining the Oceans
Margaret Cohen, Winter 2023

How has Western culture constructed the world's oceans since the beginning of global ocean exploration? How have imaginative visions of the ocean been shaped by marine science, technology, exploration, commerce and leisure? Primary authors read might include Cook, Banks, Equiano, Ricketts, and Steinbeck; Defoe, Cooper, Verne, Conrad, Woolf and Hemingway; Coleridge, Baudelaire, Moore, Bishop and Walcott. Critical readings include Schmitt, Rediker and Linebaugh, Baucom, Best, Corbin, Auden, Sontag and Heller-Roazen. Films by Sekula, Painlevé and Bigelow. Seminar coordinated with a 2015 Cantor Arts Center public exhibition. Visits to the Cantor; other possible field trips include Hopkins Marine Station and SF Maritime Historical Park. Open to graduate students only. Learn more.

GLOBAL 102: The Mamluks: Slave-Soldiers and Sultans of Medieval Egypt
Jesse Izzo, Winter 2023

Known as ghulam or mamluk in Arabic, the slave-soldier was a ubiquitous phenomenon in the world of medieval Islam. Usually pagan steppe nomads, mamluks were purchased in adolescence, converted to Islam, taught Arabic, and trained to lead armies. Sometimes manumitted and sometimes not, in either case mamluks rose to positions of privilege and prominence in numerous regimes in the medieval Middle East.Nowhere was the mamluk institution so fundamental as it was in Egypt between 1250 and 1517 CE, when Cairo was ruled by these slave-soldiers, their ranks constantly renewed by imports of new mamluks from the Black Sea and Caucuses. Born in the age of the crusades and ultimately conquered by the Ottoman Empire, the Mamluk Sultanate can be understood as a bridge between the worlds of medieval and early modern Islam, as well as between East and West, sitting astride the major Nile-Red Sea route that linked the Mediterranean world to that of the Indian Ocean and beyond. This class will investigate the rise and fall of the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt and its key roles in the commercial, diplomatic, and political history both of the medieval Middle East and the wider world. Learn more.

HISTORY 81B: Making the Modern Middle East
Nora Barakat, Fall 2023

This course aims to introduce students to major themes in the modern history of the region linking the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean worlds. No prerequisites or prior knowledge of the Middle East is required. We will begin with the Eurasian context that produced the Safavid and Ottoman empires and quickly move to the rapid transformations of the nineteenth century and imperial dissolution of the early twentieth. Twentieth-century themes will include mass migrations and colonial occupation; nationalism, mass politics and revolution; socialist and Islamist movements; and the growing role of American policy in the region. The course will conclude with a close examination of the profound transformations of the past decade, from the multiform uprisings of the 2010s to the equally multiform attempts to repress them. Learn more.