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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Last modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2012

History journal examines piracy, imperialism, anti-slavery struggles

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Jan. 17, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The most recent issue of American Historical Review includes articles on piracy in the Indian Ocean, life on the frontiers of the British Empire, prostitutes in 19th-century Japan and U.S. imperialism, as well as a conversation on the circulation of information across time and space.

In "A Trade of No Dishonor: Piracy, Commerce, and Community in the Western Indian Ocean, Twelfth to Sixteenth Century," Sebastian R. Prange puts forward an alternative model for interpreting the role of piracy in the trade and politics of the western Indian Ocean.

Focusing on a case study of the Malabar Coast in southwestern India, Prange argues that European legal and political concepts about piracy have distorted our understanding of the social, economic and political dynamics of maritime violence. The article makes the case that piracy in the western Indian Ocean exemplified analogous, global dynamics in the commercial exploitation, political contestation and legal ordering of maritime space that was a key feature of the early modern world.

Also in the December 2011 issue:

• Kathleen Wilson revives a cultural perspective on the arts and strategies of colonial state-making in "Rethinking the Colonial State: Family, Gender, and Governmentality in Eighteenth-Century British Frontiers." Examining practices of governance in three frontiers -- Fort Marlborough (Sumatra), Saint Helena and Jamaica -- Wilson demonstrates how problems of governance, discipline and population permeated early modern forms of colonial rule almost a century before we usually assume they did.

• Daniel V. Botsman, in "Freedom Without Slavery? 'Coolies,' Prostitutes, and Outcastes in Meiji Japan's 'Emancipation Moment,'" examines the way in which 19th-century struggles over slavery helped shape the processes by which ideas about freedom and liberation took root in Japan. Focusing on a court case in Yokohama in 1872, he shows how the global search for new sources of cheap, easily exploitable labor in the 1860s and 1870s, together with the spread of Western juridical practices, prompted Japanese officials to come to terms with liberal ideas.

• In "Power and Connection: Imperial Histories of the United States in the World," Paul A. Kramer argues for the utility of the "imperial" in placing the history of the United States in a global context. The article assesses the prospects and limits of the imperial in U.S. historiography across a variety of themes, offering a copious review and analysis of a range of historical literature, both older and more recent.

Also, the AHR Conversation returns, with six scholars discussing "Historical Perspectives on the Circulation of Information," led by AHR editor Robert Schneider, professor of history at Indiana University Bloomington. A recurrent theme is a cautionary one, warning against thinking about the exchange of information in terms of "flow" or other such metaphors, and instead suggesting that we should pay attention to the mechanisms, modes or infrastructures that not only make this process possible but, in many ways, condition its nature.

There are also two featured reviews along with the journal's usual extensive book review section. February's issue will include the American Historical Association Presidential Address by Anthony Grafton, an article on anti-slavery in 18th-century Haiti and an AHR Forum on "Liberal Empire and International Law."

AHR is the official publication of the American Historical Association. Its editorial offices are at Indiana University Bloomington. The journal is published five times a year by University of Chicago Press. More information is available at

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