If mountains and forests provided my first foray into understanding regions, oceans and trees became the means for my second foray into exploring how regions have formed over time. Just as I’d discovered from my work in the Himalayas that mountains, however high, were never barriers to human movement, I saw the beauty of Fernand Braudel’s observation that the ocean does not simply separate places and societies, but brings them together as a distinctive world of movements, connections and interactions.
My interest in the Indian Ocean world arose when I shifted my research focus from the Indian subcontinent to South Africa. The shift was more than a matter of changing course or swapping my interest from one place to another. The movement brought both places into a comparative frame in which the Indian Ocean emerged as the key agent of connection, specially when viewing them from a third vantage point based in Australia. When my erstwhile Monash colleague, Christian Kull, and I were on a field-teaching trip in South Africa, we were struck by how plant species from Australia, India, and South Africa had been exchanged by people moving between these places. Our interest in understanding what motivates them to do so, and what happens when the transplants are rooted in their new landscapes has provided wonderful opportunities to consider environmental histories from this oceanic world perspective and, as we say on our Trans-Plants webpage, a way to understand human history through plant movements.
Here are some of our papers that explore these connections across the Indian Ocean World
Bell, KL, Rangan, H., Fernandes, MM, Kull, CA, and Murphy, DJ. 2017, Chance long distance or human-mediated dispersal? How Acacia s.l. farnesiana attained its pan-tropical distribution. Royal Society Open Science, Published 12 April 2017.DOI: 10.1098/rsos.170105
Bell, KL, Rangan, H, Kull, CA and Murphy, DJ. 2015,The history of introduction of the African baobab (Adansonia digitata, Malvaceae: Bombacoideae) in the Indian Subcontinent, Royal Society Open Science. published 9 September 2015.DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150370. (See The Conversation article I published with Karen Bell about this research https://theconversation.com/baobab-trees-trace-the-african-diaspora-across-the-indian-ocean-47467)
Rangan, H., Bell, K., Baum D., Fowler R., McConvell, P., Saunders, T., Spronck, S., Kull, C.A., and Murphy, D.J. 2015, New genetic and linguistic analyses show ancient human influence on baobab evolution and distribution in Australia, PLOS ONE, 10 (4): 1-18. (see online article about this research in The Conversation https://theconversation.com/iconic-boab-trees-trace-journeys-of-ancient-aboriginal-people-39565)
Carney, J. and Rangan, H. eds. 2015, Situating African agency in environmental history, introduction to Special Issue on Transoceanic Exchanges, Environment & History, 21 (1): 1-12.
Rangan, H. and Bell, K. 2015, Elusive traces: Baobabs and the African diaspora in South Asia, Environment & History, 21 (1): 103-133.
Rangan, H., Alpers, E., Denham T., Kull, C. and Carney J. 2015, Food traditions and landscape histories of the Indian Ocean World: Theoretical and methodological reflections, Special Issue, Environment & History, 21 (1): 135-157.
Bell, K., Rangan, H., Fowler, R., Kull, C., Pettigrew, J., Vickers, C. and Murphy, D.J. 2014, Genetic diversity and biogeography of the boab Adansonia gregorii (Malvaceae: Bombacoideae), Australian Journal of Botany. 62: 164-174.
Rangan H., Carney, J. and Denham, T. 2012, Environmental history of botanical exchanges in the Indian Ocean World, Environment and History, 18: 311-342.
Rangan, H., and Kull, C. 2010, The Indian Ocean and the making of outback Australia: an ecocultural odyssey, in Indian Ocean Studies: Cultural Social, and Political Perspectives, eds. Shanti Moorty and Ashraf Jamal, Routledge, New York, USA, pp. 45-72.