Sunil S. Amrith
Crossing the Bay of Bengal
The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrants
Harvard University Press 2013
When historians think oceanically, when they populate their books with characters that include seas and monsoons along with human beings, what results is a very different way of thinking about time, space, and the ways that their interactions shape human and terrestrial history. In Crossing the Bay of Bengal: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrants (Harvard University Press, 2013), Sunil S. Amrith has produced an elegant, sensitively-wrought account of hundreds of years in the life of the Bay of Bengal. This history of the Bay is also history of the movements and circulations it has engendered, from ocean currents to Tamil migrants, from steamships to Indian laborers, from paper passports to trickles of dammed water, from pails of liquid rubber to wheels on US automobiles. Crossing the Bay of Bengal is simultaneously a political, social, cultural and environmental history: at the same time that it carefully contextualizes the emergence of boundaries (be they the disciplines of area studies or the forms of modern citizenship that follow the emergence of nation-states), it urges readers to transcend those boundaries to produce more integrated narratives of forms of modern life. This wonderful book will be of special import to readers interested in the histories of empire, commerce, labor, migration, the environment, and the maritime world, but it will reward attention regardless of a reader’s background or expertise.