The Indian Ocean World

PhD Scholarship in Indian Ocean World History

Pearls, People, and Power: Global Commodity History and Material Culture in the Transformation of the Indian Ocean World, 16th-20th Centuries.

The greatest pearl fisheries of the world are those of the Indian Ocean and its various arms– the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the waters separating India and Sri Lanka, the Sulu and Celebes Seas in insular Southeast Asia, and Australia’s northern seaboard. This multidisciplinary project is the first transoceanic investigation of pearling in the Indian Ocean World (IOW), focussing on the pearl and mother-of-pearl fisheries of the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, India and Sri Lanka, the Sulu Sea, and northern Australia.

Pearling highlights the multi-dimensional and interdependent connections of IOW history. It produced both luxury items and bulk commodities for long-distance trade: pearls, present as a rare trade commodity wherever two or more cultures and economies edged up against one another, were prized as an item of conspicuous consumption across the ages in Persia, India, China, Japan, Europe and America; and mother-of-pearl, the commodity derived from pearlshell, one of the most valuable articles in the creative and design arts, used in the manufacture of a wide range of ceremonial and consumer goods.

The repercussions of this global trade resulted in the mass movement of peoples to the IOW pearling grounds, and led to the advent of conflicts between local rulers and imperial powers over the control of pearling industries and the conduct of trade in commodities such as opium, textiles, guns and tea linked to the production and circulation of pearls and pearlshell.

The project team is using commodity-based historical analyses and object-centred biographies to undertake comparative studies of the labour systems, trade networks, and cultural value of pearls and pearlshell between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries, an era marked by the spread of European imperialism and industrialization.

In full recognition that pearling and patterns of global consumption in IOW history embraces a geographical and cultural diversity that cannot be adequately covered by a single researcher or a single discipline, the project brings together historians, ethnohistorians, film-makers, and museum curators, drawing on each discipline to support a research agenda that utilizes two innovative methodological approaches, namely, commodity-based historical analysis and object-centred biography, and which leads to a public-based programme of outputs.

This project marks an extension of the major collaborative relationship involving the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University, the Indian Ocean World Centre (IOWC) at McGill University, and the Western Australian Museum.

Project team: Emeritus Professor James Warren (Murdoch; project leader); Emeritus Professor Michael Pearson (University of New South Wales); Associate Professor Steve Mullins (Central Queensland University); Associate Professor Martin Mhando (Murdoch University); Mr Alec Coles (CEO, Western Australian Museum); Associate Professor Pedro Machado (Indiana University); Associate Professor Matthew Hopper (California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo); Associate Professor Hideaki Suzuki (Nagasaki University); Dr Joanna Sassoon and Dr Joseph Christensen (Murdoch University).

For more information on this project contact: Joseph Christensen at

‘Typhoons in the Philippines: a Historical Overview’ is a vibrant interactive case study about cyclonic storms and the workings of the weather in the Philippines. A visual display that attempts to explain climate and weather patterns and their historical impacts in one of the most densely populated, vulnerable and, in geopolitical terms, strategic group of islands on the planet. The creation of this map journal is the result of a major collaborative research initiative of the Indian Ocean World Centre (IOWC) –MCRI, Mc Gill University, and , Asia Research Centre,-ARC Linkage Grant, Murdoch University.

Map journal 'Typhoons in the Philippines'

Hazards, Tipping Points, Adaptation and Collapse in the Indo-Pacific World

Australian Research Council Linkage Project LP1500649

Professor James Warren and an international team of scholars and experts in social and natural science are collaborating in a multi-disciplinary investigation, providing a new perspective on Indo-Pacific history post-1000 CE based on an improved understanding of the interrelationship between natural environmental cycles and events, and social and political cycles and events.

The project aims to reconcile social and natural science approaches to the study of natural events, and to systematically examine whether an extreme natural event (or series of) have consequences on society, and, likewise, whether major social upheavals can be linked to events in the natural world. It introduces ‘tipping points’ and the inter-relationship between natural environmental cycles and events as an innovative analytical framework for understanding past and present. The project focuses on the Indo-Pacific World, covering India to China and Japan and which embraces Southeast Asia and Australia’s northern tropical coast, an inter-connected and environmentally unified region that encompasses cyclonic, seismic, tsunamigenic, and volcanic areas.

This ARC Linkage project facilitates long-term strategic research alliances between higher education in the social and natural sciences across three continents. It involves a global collaboration between Murdoch University’s Asia Research Centre and other university institutions including Indian Ocean World Centre (McGill); the Earth Observatory Singapore (Nanyang Technological); Center for Integrated Area Studies, (Kyoto); Laboratory of Physical Geography, (Paris); Manila Observatory, (Ateneo de Manila); ANU College of Asia and the Pacific; Institute de Chandenagor; Institute of History, (Leiden); and the Department of History, University of Hull.

For more information on this project contact: Professor James Warren, at

Southeast Asia’s Global Economy, Climate and the Impact of Natural Hazards from the 10th to 21st Centuries

Professor James Warren is leading a team of scholars under the auspices of an Australia Research Council Linkage Grant, aligned with McGill University’s Indian Ocean World Centre’s ( IOWC) ground breaking project, ’The Indian Ocean World: The Making of the First Global Economy in the Context of Human Environment- Interaction’ which runs over seven years (2010–17), sponsored by the Canadian Government’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council.

Professor Warren's team is undertaking a broad investigation of the impacts of climate-related and other natural hazards (typhoons, floods, drought, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc.) on the economy, society and history of Southeast Asia and the eastern sector of the Indian Ocean World (IOW), from the 10th century to the present. This project aims to reconstruct spatial, temporal and social patterns in vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate variability and natural hazards. The research focuses on economic, demographic and social trends (including food security) in conjunction with climatic and natural hazard events, and will examine in detail the sometimes catastrophic impacts on human institutions and cultural values. Qualitative and quantitative data will be collected from the largely untapped and accurate historical records, which will then be integrated with climate change and geophysical models to overcome the lack of reliable, sustained statistical records before the modern era. A key part of this analysis will be to compare and re-evaluate pre-colonial and colonial disaster preparedness, relief coordination, and natural hazard technology and politics. Primacy will be given to the roles of Asians and local methods and knowledge of prediction, preparation and recovery. The hope is to combine these diverse data to clarify the complex and uncertain linkages and causality, both historical and current, between people, economy and the environment, in Asia and the IOW.

The ARC Linkage Project represents a crucial Australian step of the global collaboration led by Professor Gwyn Campbell, Director of the IOWC. It is initiating very important research on the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam and establishing the systems for converging research on critical trade contacts in the Indian Ocean world. The project is creating synergies and mutual benefits by bringing, as an industry partner, a world-renowned source of maritime archaeological expertise and public outreach that is actually located on the edge of the Indian Ocean, the Western Australian Maritime Museum. The project also forms the basis of the Australian contribution to the evolving network of collaboration Japan-Australia-Canada: Interdisciplinary Collaboration for a New Global Approach to the Humanities, which involves cooperation between the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University, the IOWC at McGill University, and the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia at the University of Tokyo, in the areas of global history, global environmental history, and IOW history.

For more information on this project contact: Professor James Warren, at