Muddy Waters: Port Environments and Terraqueous Legalities

Bhavani Raman
University of Toronto

The idea that that the coast can be legally occupied by large ports and other infrastructure is surprisingly recent in the Indian Ocean world. Indeed, the Indian Ocean littoral offers an important site to understand how modern imperialism propelled property-making rather paradoxically through the extension of coastal “protection.” Whereas in the early modern era, the Indian Ocean’s littoral societies enjoyed a privileged status as coastal guardians, from the turn of the nineteenth century, ideas of public good and public trust vested the protection of the shores and seas in states. Drawing on case studies from the early modern and colonial period, I explore how littoral societies slowly yielded their jurisdiction over terraqueous landscapes to the modern state. This change coincided with the imperial age of the steam ship. It was also marked by the legal transformation of the littoral as property. My paper will conclude by reflecting on the legacy of these developments in the present.