Empire in Asia

A New Global History

A Hundred Horizons

Book Cover

Book Title

A Hundred Horizons. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006


Bose, Sugata


The book underscores the relevance and resilience of the Indian Ocean space in modern times. There are deep and unique bonds that tie together the peoples of this interregional arena of human interaction, particularly a common historical destiny since the ocean was frequently characterized by specialized flows of capital and labor, skills and services, ideas and culture. The idea of the shared historical destiny of communities around the Indian Ocean is thus based on the paradigm that spatial boundaries help historians theorize and place in historical context the Indian Ocean as an interregional arena of political, economic and cultural interaction.

This book has been attentive to the global context and a larger set of global connections throughout. Yet it also has shown that Indian Ocean history in the age of global empire had elements of history of the processes occurring in the ocean.

Bose tells his stories in the form of a series of nonlinear narratives. Hence, the laying out of broad patterns of interregional networks is matched in each chapter by the unraveling of individual tales of proconsuls and pirates, capitalists and laborers.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The cross-cutting Indian Ocean stories have something to say about the historical conceptions of both space and time. In this way, the historical analysis of the areas surrounding the Indian Ocean and trade networks highlight a different way of delineating a space to examine history. They underscore the relevance and resilience of the Indian Ocean space throughout modern times. This book has been attentive to the global context and a larger set of global connections. Yet it also illustrates the point that Indian Ocean history was significant in the age of global empire as its history touched upon a large part of the processes occurring within the development of empire through the sea.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

A question posed that is extremely relevant is whether the Indian Ocean rim had continued to be a coherently definable interregional arena after the imposition of European economic and political domination by the first half of the nineteenth century. Some historians argue and the author agrees that the Indian and Chinese chain of trade and finance stretching from Zanzibar to Singapore formed "a distinct international system that never lost its identity in the larger dominant world system of the West". However, the changes that had occurred was more within the administrative domain. Most importantly, Bose identified principles of unity that might have sustained the level of economy and culture in an age where it had become part of and in many ways subservient to a global set of interconnection.

Perhaps the most prominent focus of the book is on the way concepts of sovereignty had been altered. Pre-colonial states and polities generally possessed a shared and layered concept of sovereignty, which helped create certain autonomous spaces for the inhabitants of port cities. However, the notion of indivisible and unitary sovereignty imported under colonial conditions from Europe represented a major break from ideas of good governance and legitimacy that had been widespread in the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal domains and their regional successor states. Another important theme explored is the significant decline in the position of most intermediate groups on whose collaboration colonial rule initially rested.

The topic of flows of capital and labor, specifically migration, is explored in memoirs, travel accounts and letters, such that statistical evidence is offset by textual sources. This merges the quantitative aspects of trade and finance balanced by a range of qualitative source materials that tend to be more evocative. Even at the turn of the twentieth century, the globalism experienced by the colonized was different from the globalization of the territorial nation-state by colonial empires. It may have been in the form and structure of states, but alternative universalistic allegiances were never wholly disavowed.

Annotated by Michelle Djong