This essay rethinks Pearson’s formulation of littoral society in two essays he wrote in 1985 and 2006. While the first made a case for coastal history, the second continued the theme into the littoral, the strip between land and sea. Pearson foregrounded the universality of a clearly discernible littoral culture on coastlines along and across the Indian Ocean. This translated consequently into a shared history and a common heritage across the ocean’s diverse shores. At a time when maritime historians were writing what were essentially land-based histories on ocean spaces, Pearson’s social history of the littoral over a longue duree was a significant intervention.
Asian Review of World Histories, founded in 2013, is the official journal of the Asian Association of World Historians (AAWH). This peer-reviewed journal publishes original research articles and book reviews to advance research, teaching, and public discussion on world historical studies in or for the Asian region. It seeks the participation of those who identify themselves as "global," "world," "transregional," "comparative," "international," and "big" historians, and all others with interest in a "connected" study of the past. The journal also acts as a forum for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary conversations and for the collaboration of historians with scholars in adjoining disciplines including and with global historical scholars in all parts of the world.
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The worlds of Central Asia and the Indian Ocean have been seen as discrete, seemingly unconnected except by way of the vertical silk roads descending through feeder routes into port cities situated along the Indian Ocean and its many seas, gulfs, and bays. Before Central Asia lost historical centrality and was regarded increasingly as a blank space on the map, it was a dynamic region. The Indian Ocean world with its spice, cotton, and silk routes was more known, having entered European geographical knowledge— and fantasy—from antiquity. The two worlds—terrestrial and oceanic—have been seen as diametrically opposed, with historiography privileging the latter. This essay links the two worlds by evoking people, places, and mobility through the legend of Prester John, a mysterious Christian monarch and putative ally against Muslims.