Crossroads Research

Sea nomads or nautical societies? Correcting colonial myths and the illusions of state-centered historiography, by Jennifer Gaynor

April 26, 2024, 14:00 CET. Online via MS Teams.

Southeast Asian sea nomads attracted the interest of colonial observers and continue to draw the attention of scholars, who sometimes characterize them as non-state people. Yet, many so-called sea nomads in Southeast Asia had close ties with early modern states and some even had amphibious states of their own. Did their ethnicity change when they worked with, or as part of, states? Did they shed their nomadism? Or were they ever “nomadic” in the first place? This talk explores the historical fascination with sea nomads, whether it is an artefact of colonial perceptions, modernist condescension and land-centric views, and what this might tell us about a reliance on state-centered historiographies.

Jennifer L. GAYNOR is an historian and anthropologist of Southeast Asia and its surrounding seas from the early modern period to the present. Her first book, Intertidal History in Island Southeast AsiaSubmerged Genealogy and the Legacy of Coastal Capture (Cornell University Press, 2016) recentered the contributions of Southeast Asian maritime people in regional and world historical perspectives. She recently published a chapter on “The enduring sea cultures of Southeast Asia, seventh to seventeenth centuries,” in The Cambridge History of the Pacific Ocean, edited by Ryan Tucker Jones and Matt K. Matsuda, under the general editorship of Paul D’Arcy. In addition to fellowships at Cornell University’s Society for the Humanities, the Australian National University and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, she has taught history at Cornell, Michigan, and at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where she is a Research Fellow in the School of Law.

To register for the talk, please send us an e-mail.

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