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Location: Kyoto and Auckland
Work interests: research, editing, science communication
Affiliation/website: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka
Preferred contact method: Any
Preferred contact language(s): English, German
Contact: email = researchcooperative-at-gmail-dot-com
Favourite publications: Various, and especially the open access versions of older journals with effective review systems

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Work: ethnobotany, prehistory, museum curation
Affiliations: 1996-present: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka. 1995: Freelance editor, Kyoto. 1994: JSPS Research Visitor, Kyoto University, Kyoto. 1993: Research Visitor, Australian National University, Canberra. 1991: Visiting Researcher, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka.1990: STA Fellow, National Institute for Ornamental Plants, Vegetables, and Tea (NIVOT), Ano, Japan
Contact: National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Expo Park, Suita City, Osaka, Japan 565-8511
Biographical: Established the Research Cooperative in 2001
Favourite Publications: Various

How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History

2017-01-21
By: Research Cooperative
Posted in: Books

Sanjeev Sanyal  (2016)  The Ocean of Churn: How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History, Penguin (297 pp. incl. index).

I found the book in December last year in a great bookshop hidden away on an upper floor of an Indian cottage crafts emporium in New Delhi. Sanyal, an Oxford-trained economist, takes us deep into the prehistory, human migrations, and social upheavals of all regions that lie around or near the Indian Ocean, from our human evolutionary past to modern economic present.

The Ocean of Churn is an expansive journey across time and space, informed by the author's own footwork in many of the places he writes about. The Indian continent is geologically and socially central to the story. Although the author is himself Indian, and is very interested in India's position in world history, he provides a refeshingly frank and balanced view of all the characters in his narrative, in India and beyond.

Sanyal has pulled many diverse subjects into a single coherent, readable narrative that expresses sympathy for ordinary people, admiration for the achievements of extraordinary people, and shows how ordinary people can often be seen as extraordinary when we look back in time.

An implication of all this is that our "ordinary" today would certainly be extraordinary to people in the past. The fact that "ordinary" readers from almost anywhere in the world might chance to read this book review is one example.

A larger purpose of Sanyal's writing may be to help people today understand that human movements and social interractions have been complex and wide-ranging for many thousands of years. His hope, I imagine, is that we can continue adapting to ever-changing circumstances without resorting to the kinds of greed, violence and short-sighted planning that have characterised so many human endeavours in the past.

In this journey around the Indian Ocean, the author introduces the best and worst traits of human nature, and suggests how we may all have significant roles to play in human history -- even if our lives are never recorded in stone memorials that will in any case be buried in the detritus of later ages.

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