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Review: Indian Ocean World Podcast

A review of Indian Ocean World Podcast, which explores historical trajectories of climate change, directed by Gwyn Campbell, Philip Gooding, and Sam Gleave Riemann

Published onFeb 26, 2024
Review: Indian Ocean World Podcast

Indian Ocean World Podcast

Project Directors
Gwyn Campbell, McGill University
Philip Gooding, McGill University
Sam Gleave Riemann, McGill University

Project URL

Project Reviewer
Saronik Bosu, New York University

Project Overview

Gwyn Campbell, Philip Gooding, and Sam Gleave Riemann

The Indian Ocean World Podcast is the podcast of a broader project Appraising Risk. Appraising Risk is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada and involves international partners and collaborators from across North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australasia. It examines past-to-present patterns of climate variability and environmental change in the Indian Ocean World, a macro-region stretching between eastern Africa and eastern and southeastern Asia. The intention is to build locally and historically grounded policy recommendations that meet the challenges of global warming in the present and future. 

The Indian Ocean World Podcast was launched initially in 2019 and has grown exponentially since 2020. It began with interviews with Gwyn Campbell, the principal investigator of Appraising Risk, about the nature and origins of Indian Ocean World studies. Following that, interviewers Philip Gooding, Archisman Chaudhuri, and Renee Manderville interviewed a number of other members of the Appraising Risk project. Then, in the last 18 months, Philip Gooding and Julie Babin have interviewed scholars with expertise in a range of topics whose pioneering research informs the perspectives taken in Appraising Risk. 

The focus of the Indian Ocean World Podcast is broadly environmental, although some recordings have approached other themes. In their collectivity, they show the variety of disciplinary approaches that scholars have used to assess past and present climatic and environmental changes in the Indian Ocean World, as well as the different ways that they have understood and conceptualized societies within their environmental contexts. Thus, podcast topics have ranged from human-animal relations in the present, disease and oceanic travel during the early modern period, colonial meteorological science in the 19th century, current environmental heritage and impressions of the past, and using GIS methods in disaster management — the latter of which was accompanied with a video recording. Since the podcast’s founding, the team at the Indian Ocean World Center (IOWC) have published a total of 53 episodes, the majority of which have been published in the fall and winter semesters of each academic year. 

The intended audience is scholarly, including students and senior faculty. Several episodes have been assigned on reading lists for undergraduate and graduate courses. Some of the benefits to students include that interviewees regularly provide summaries of themes contained in longer works, especially monographs. Further, other podcasts include interviewees’ wider thoughts, contexts, and research questions for shorter pieces, including journal articles and book chapters. Access to materials is further enhanced by publishing the podcasts across platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcast, and Podbean, as well as on the Appraising Risk website. 

The team behind the Indian Ocean World Podcast are members of the IOWC, a research centre contained within the Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill University. Campbell, Gooding, and Chaudhuri are historians, with respective foci on Madagascar over the longue durée, 19th-century eastern Africa, and 17th-century South Asia. Babin and Manderville are respectively trained in geography and development studies, with the former focusing on East Asia and the latter on Southeast Asia. All, however, have broader disciplinary and regional interests, enabling them to collaborate on inviting scholars and developing podcast questions. In the last year, moreover, they have been ably assisted by Sam Gleave Rieman, who organizes recordings and edits, produces, and publishes the podcast.

Project Review

Saronik Bosu

The Indian Ocean World Podcast (IOW Podcast) is an excellent addition to the repertoire of the Indian Ocean World Centre (IOWC), giving voice, quite literally, to the cutting edge of its research in different disciplines, and also to idioms of collegiality and collaboration that are difficult to represent in formal genres of academic knowledge production. 

In a larger sense, the IOW Podcast concentrates on encoding, in podcast form, the many ways that humanities research is conducted, rather than promising constitutive changes to the ways of humanities research. Interspersing interviews with advanced scholars with episodes on the works-in-progress of students, for instances, is a laudable way to bear witness to exciting new research that does not have the visibility that publication confers. One such recent such episode on undergraduate student research into areas like world histories of climate, climate histories of colonialism, interactions between human development and climate change, and historical missionary records of climate data, provides exciting glimpses into possible future shapes of this field. 

In 2010, Isabel Hofmeyr had remarked that for tracking complex historical change and development and interactions of the “post-cold-war and post-American world… the best vantage point… will certainly be the Indian Ocean.”1 Taken together, episodes of this podcast weave throughlines of historical change as well as modes of inquiry specific to different disciplines in order to engage with this multivalent intellectual formation. On the other hand, the way the website curates the episodes reflects the unavoidable (and productive) tensions between the field’s instinct to standardize methods and vocabularies and the contextual specificity that has undeniable connections to area studies.

The podcast does not boast a highly polished sound but transmits the impression of an academic conversation that is thorough and wide-ranging but not burdened too much by formality. As such, it suits the podcast genre, and its turnover of episodes by representing the vanguard of a rapidly developing field with the sound of collegiality.

That said, there are a few minor changes that would make a big difference in how the podcast is being received, not least as a pedagogical resource. The language of the website conveys some confusion between the uses of the words “podcast” and “episode.” Since this is an academic podcast that invites further research, adding transcripts would definitely be useful and ensure greater accessibility. Finally, though less important, the opening theme might be too brief to convey the sound of waves. 

The IOW Podcast, as the website implies, does not stand apart from other elements of the Appraising Risk project: the conferences and workshops, journals, and so on. Naturally, podcast episodes are easier and quicker to schedule and produce than conference presentations and journal articles. It is an efficient way to avoid the slow processual time of most academic knowledge dissemination and acquaint the IOWC’s scholarly audience with state of the art research.

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