In the late 18th century, Thomas Forrest, a British sea captain and trader with decades of experience in the Indian Ocean, Malaysia and Indonesia, published accounts of some of his voyages to raise awareness of their economic potential. He incorporated Malay navigational information in his charts, but the crucial contribution he received from indigenous intermediaries was barely recognised, even as the new knowledge structures he helped to build were being used to consolidate British colonial bases in Asia. This process was replicated in many forms, so that local voices, whether supportive of, protesting against or proposing creative accommodation with the British Empire, as it stretched across the Pacific and Southeast Asia, were erased as time went on.
Sujit Sivasundaram sets out to address this lacuna. What, he asks, does the history of the late 18th and early 19th centuries (the ‘Age of Revolutions’) look like from the perspective of the Indian and Pacific oceans? In answering the question, he fixes on the local and indigenous peoples in