A list of luggage from the Indian Ocean world – towards a high-definition “archaeology” of text?

Monday 19 November 2018, 1.00PM

Speaker(s): Elizabeth Lambourn

To date the term “high-definition” has been used almost exclusively within archaeology, however, many areas of the Indian Ocean remain unexcavated - for example, archaeological data is still non-existent for large parts of the premodern Malabar coast – preventing these areas from contributing to (or benefiting from) this approach. Are they therefore consigned to permanent obscurity or might other types of source material, notably texts, be exploited in equivalent ways and serve to bring these areas into mainstream archaeological debate? Essentially, is a high-definition “archaeology” of text possible? If so, WHERE and WHEN is it possible, and how might it be different from approaches such as micro-history and/or Geertz’s thick description? Furthermore, will it be accepted by archaeologists?

Through their unique resolution the so-called ‘India Book’ documents – the portion of the Cairo Genizah relating to Jewish trade in the western Indian Ocean from the late eleventh to twelfth centuries CE – offer a promising place to explore this problem. This paper reflects on the potentials and pitfalls of submitting the ‘India Book’ documents to the “high-definition” approach. In so doing it aims to engage Indian Oceanists more directly and deliberately in existing debates within archaeology on the relationships between archaeological material and textual sources (see Moreland, 2001, 2006; Andrén, 2013; Rutz and Kersel, 2014, to name but a few).


Elizabeth Lambourn is a historian of South Asia and the Indian Ocean world and is currently Reader in South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies at De Montfort University in Leicester. Elizabeth is interested in the circulation of people, animals, things and ideas with a particular specialization in Indian Ocean maritime cultures and cultural exchanges between South Asia and the Middle East before the European arrival. Her monograph, Abraham’s Luggage. A Social Life of Things in the Indian Ocean World, will be published with Cambridge University Press in October 2018.

Location: Philip Rahtz lecture theatre, K/133

Admission: Free and open to all

Email: cr603york.ac.uk