Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean:
An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750

K.N. Chaudhuri

Cambridge University Press 1985
A book review by Danny Yee © 2000
In Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean Chaudhuri presents a large-scale economic history of the Indian Ocean. Reminiscent of Braudel in its sweep, it is broader in its temporal span (covering more than a millennium) but more narrowly focused on trade (rather than general social history). The bulk of part one is historical, describing the rise of Islam and pre-European trading networks, the Portuguese empire, the Dutch and English East India Companies, and the system of emporia trade around the great ports. This is an engrossing account, linking continuities and discontinuities in trade to political and social history.

In part two Chaudhuri turns to the longue durĂ©e, to the more slowly changing structural aspects of Indian Ocean trade and civilisation. Chapter six describes the seas and the skills needed to master them, covering seafaring communities and social attitudes to the sea as well as monsoons, navigation, and the risks of shipwreck. Chapter seven covers shipbuilding and design: nails versus stitching, European techniques, and Indonesian and Chinese designs. Chapter eight looks at the connections of the sea with the land, at the importance of ports and rivers and at the central Asian caravan routes that were part of the same trading networks, as well as at the role of towns and urbanisation more generally. Chapter nine describes commodities and their markets, covering the differences between high value goods and bulk commodities (important as ballast) and the unpredictability of prices. And chapter ten turns to capital and finance, pointing out differences from modern capitalism — in, for example, a lack of separation between the ownership and use of capital — but arguing that pre-modern Indian Ocean capitalism had its own logic.

February 2000

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%T Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean
%S An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750
%A Chaudhuri, K.N.
%I Cambridge University Press
%D 1985
%O paperback, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0521285429
%P xiii,269pp