A web of maritime highways and a chessboard of relationships and mobilities, the Bay of Bengal, with its deltas and mangrove forests, busy harbors and disappearing coasts, is a vital region for several countries, both littoral (India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Thailand) and landlocked (Nepal, Bhutan, China, Northeast India, Nepal).
Often disregarded as the periphery between South Asia and Southeast Asia – two macro areas that came to define much of modern scholarship on the region - the Bay of Bengal can be seen as the nodal crossroad, the center and the cultural hub for a network of exchanges and contacts of diverse kinds. This roundtable discussion aims to emphasize the spaces and trajectories in between these two macro areas by drawing attention on the land and maritime connections that traverse, begin or terminate in and across the Bay of Bengal. Transcending methodological nationalism, it focuses on transnational and transregional movements, practices and institutions.
The overall aim of the panel is to bring together perspectives from several disciplines to understand the historical construction as well as the emerging importance of the Bay of Bengal region.
The first session is focused on historical and cosmopolitan connections. Our participants will share their expertise on the shaping of the Bay of Bengal from precolonial to modern, passing through the trajectories of dominance, trade and leisure traced by multiple imperialist and local powers. The discussion will follow a short presentation of four main themes:
- Infrastructures of trans-Bay connections during Myanmar's colonial and post-colonial era.
- Portuguese presence in the Bay of Bengal (16th to 18th century), unofficial settlements and their long-lasting linguistic traces.
- Trans-colonial mobility of Anglo-Dutch imperial middle classes in the 19th century, with specific focus on the transport nodes at Singapore and Penang, Calcutta, Galle and extending to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies, following the introduction of steam-shipping.
- Masulipatnam, a 17th century port complex at the crux of the Coromandel textile trade and a metropolitan hub of neutral exchange.