I am a historian of the medieval Indian Ocean world. My research interests revolve around the development of Islam in monsoon Asia, the role of piracy and maritime violence, and the evolution of capitalism from a non-European perspective.
Between the 12th and 16th centuries, a distinct form of Islamic thought and practice developed among Muslim trading communities of the Indian Ocean. In Monsoon Islam: Trade & Faith on the Medieval Malabar Coast (Cambridge University Press 2018), I argue that this development was shaped by merchants not sultans, forged by commercial imperatives rather than in battle, and defined by the reality of Muslims living within non-Muslim societies. Focusing on India's Malabar Coast, the much-fabled "land of pepper", the book offers a window into the processes by which this "Monsoon Islam" developed in response to concrete economic, religious, and political challenges. Most importantly, because communities of Muslim merchants across the Indian Ocean were part of shared commercial, scholarly, and political networks, developments on the Malabar Coast illustrate a broader, trans-oceanic history of the evolution of Islam across monsoon Asia.
Supported by a SSHRC Insight Grant, I am currently expanding this project beyond the scope of the book to explore the connected histories of Monsoon Islam in East Africa and Southeast Asia.
My second project studies the history of Indian Ocean piracy from an Asian perspective. The project is premised on the notion that in Asia as in Europe, the early-modern period was marked by a shift from fluid to more rigid parameters of social and political identity, from semi-private to public forms of warfare, and from personal to increasingly codified legal regimes. Recognizing that maritime violence was a crucial vector in all of these developments recasts the much-maligned pirate as a key player in the making of the early-modern world.
My third, and most experimental, project has evolved through my teaching on the global history of capitalism to high school students, university undergraduates, and lifelong learners. The complexities of globalization, modern finance, government intervention, and workplace regulations that mediate our present-day encounter with capitalism make it nearly impossible to grasp it as a system. To get to the heart of capitalism, I seek it out "in the wild", in the liminal spaces where it exists unencumbered and unrestrained. If we are curious to know what capitalism is really like, then we need to look at the truest, most authentic capitalists there are: outlaws.
Outlaw Economics: A Rogue History of Capitalism explores the history of capitalism in four chapters. Each chapter corresponds to a distinct phase in its historical development; the key themes of each phase are illustrated through a particular outlaw enterprise. These outlaw groups offer a microcosm of the imperatives, opportunities, practices, and institutions that defined capitalism during that particular phase of its development. History often reveals itself at the margins—by operating on the fringes of the “regular economy”, these outlaws cast a fresh light on the system by which we all live our lives.
Monsoon Islam traces the evolution of a distinct form of Islamic thought and practice that developed in the trading world of the medieval Indian Ocean. What defines this Monsoon Islam is that its traditions, ideologies, and customs reflect the values of ordinary merchants rather than the interests of a political or religious elite. At its core, Monsoon Islam was the product of the tension between the distant and the local, between...
The history of the Muslim world in its global dimensions from its origins to the present day through the themes of religion, law, politics, culture, and modernity. HIST 280 will introduce students to the methods of historical practice, including primary-source analysis, historical writing, library and research skills, and public history.
Medieval India explored through stories from and about India's pre-modern past. Examines trends in society, religion, politics, and material life to reveal the dynamism of this period and to challenge simplified narratives of Hindu-Muslim conflict.