Dr Elizabeth Lambourn

Job: Reader in South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies

Faculty: Arts, Design and Humanities

School/department: School of Humanities

Research group(s): History

Address: De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, UK, LE1 9BH

T: +44 (0)116 255 1551

E: elambourn@dmu.ac.uk

W: dmu.academia.edu/ElizabethLambourn

 

Personal profile

Elizabeth Lambourn is a historian of South Asia and the Indian Ocean world, specializing in cultural exchanges with the Middle East before 1500.

Research group affiliations

History Research Group

Publications and outputs 

  • India in the ‘India Book’: 12th Century Northern Malabar through Geniza Documents
    India in the ‘India Book’: 12th Century Northern Malabar through Geniza Documents Lambourn, E. The publication in 2008 of S.D. Goitein & M.A. Friedman’s “India Book” (India Traders of the Middle Ages: Documents from the Cairo Geniza ('India Book'). Leiden / Boston, E.J. Brill) is revolutionising the history of the medieval Indian Ocean, or at least the possibilities for that history. This chapter represents a first attempt to integrate the new data from the Genizah documents into the history of the Malabar ports where these Jewish merchants – now referred to as “India traders” - operated. The early 12th century was a period of huge political and economic change and the data from these documents allows us to shed light on a little known period, and one badly represented in indigenous sources.
  • Abraham's Luggage
    Abraham's Luggage Lambourn, E. From a single merchant's list of baggage begins a history that explores the dynamic world of medieval Indian Ocean exchanges. This fresh and innovative perspective on Jewish merchant activity shows how this list was a component of broader trade connections that developed between the Islamic Mediterranean and South Asia in the Middle Ages. Drawing on a close reading of this unique twelfth-century document, found in the Cairo Genizah and written in India by North African merchant Abraham Ben Yiju, Lambourn focuses on the domestic material culture and foods that structured the daily life of such India traders, on land and at sea. This is an exploration of the motivations and difficulties of maintaining homes away from home, and the compromises that inevitably ensued. Abraham's Luggage demonstrates the potential for writing challenging new histories in the accidental survival of apparently ordinary ephemera.
  • Islam beyond Empires – Mosques and Islamic Landscapes in India and the Indian Ocean
    Islam beyond Empires – Mosques and Islamic Landscapes in India and the Indian Ocean Lambourn, E. This chapter discusses the mosque architecture of Muslims who lived beyond Islamic polities, beyond the lands of Islam, it focuses in particular on coastal South Asia where many areas were never durably incorporated into Islamic polities and Muslims retained a large degree if community autonomy. Re-situating these mosques within their original social context, the chapter underlines the unique status of mosques in this environment as multifunctional centres of community life; the collaborative, multi-faith social networks that underpinned their construction and maintenance and the consequences of this deep local embededness for the architectural forms and ground plans of such structures.
  • Legal Encounters on the Medieval Globe
    Legal Encounters on the Medieval Globe Lambourn, E. Law has been a primary locus and vehicle of contact across human history—as a system of ideas embodied in people and enacted on bodies; and also as a material, textual, and sensory “thing.” This volume analyzes a variety of legal encounters ranging from South Asia to South and Central America, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. The seven essays also explore various material expressions of law that reveal the complexity and intensity of cross-cultural contact in this pivotal era.
  • Ali Akbar’s red horse – collecting Arab horses in the early modern culture of Empire.
    Ali Akbar’s red horse – collecting Arab horses in the early modern culture of Empire. Lambourn, E. The Islamicate world has barely featured thus far in the new academic study of collecting, collectors and collections, certainly nowhere in proportion to its vast geographical and temporal extent. My chapter contributes to this nascent bibliography with a study of the relationships between merchant brokers and court collectors in seventeenth century India, as they emerge through the case study of ‘Ali Akbar Isfahani and his provision of ‘jewels and horses’ to the Mughal emperor of India, Shah Jahan. Using ‘Ali Akbar’s career as a case study, this chapter discusses what is known, and not known, about the role of merchants as patrons and brokers, providing in the process a survey of the existing literature. The second part of this chapter addresses is the place of the horse in collections as an animate ‘collectable.' The study of a particular 'red' horse supplied by ‘Ali Akbar to Shah Jahan queries and disrupts some of Asian art’s more established taxonomies and argues for a less object-centric, more holistic view of what was collected, by whom, how and why, in early modern Eurasia.
  • Chinese porcelain and the material taxonomies of medieval Rabbinic law: encounters with disruptive substances in
    Chinese porcelain and the material taxonomies of medieval Rabbinic law: encounters with disruptive substances in Lambourn, E.; Ackerman-Lieberman, Philip This article focuses on a set of legal questions about sini vessels (literally, "Chinese" vessels) sent from the Jewish community in Aden to Fustat (Old Cairo) in the mid-1130s CE and now preserved among the Cairo genius holdings in Cambridge University Library. This is the easiest dated and localised query about the status of sini vessels with respect to the Jewish law of vessels used fr food consumption. Our analysis of these queries suggests that their phrasing and timing can be linked to the contemporaneous appearance in the Yemen of a new type of Chinese ceramic ware, qingbai, which confounded and destabilised the material taxonomies underpinning rabbinic Judaism. Marshalling evidence from contemporary Jewish legal compendia and other writings produced in this milieu, our discussion substantially advances interpretive angles first suggested by S.D. Goitein and Mordechai A. Friedman to examine the efforts of Adeni Jews to place this Chinese ceramic fabric among already legislated substances, notably the "neighbouring" substances of glass and earthenware, in order to derive clear rules for the proper use and purification of vessels manufactured from it. Co-authored with Phillip I. Ackerman-Lieberman, Vanderbilt University, USA.
  • Describing a lost camel - Clues for West Asian mercantile networks in South Asian maritime trade (Tenth–Twelfth centuries CE).
    Describing a lost camel - Clues for West Asian mercantile networks in South Asian maritime trade (Tenth–Twelfth centuries CE). Lambourn, E.
  • Towards a connected history of equine cultures in South Asia - bahrī (sea) horses and ‘horsemania’ in thirteenth century South India
    Towards a connected history of equine cultures in South Asia - bahrī (sea) horses and ‘horsemania’ in thirteenth century South India Lambourn, E. This article explores ways that the concept of equine cultures, developed thus far principally in European and/or early modern and colonial contexts, might translate to premodern South Asia. As a first contribution to a history of equine matters in South Asia, it focuses on the maritime circulation of horses from the Middle East to Peninsular India in the thirteenth century, examining the different ways that this phenomenon is recorded in textual and material sources and exploring their potential for writing a new, more connected history of South Asia and the Indian Ocean world.
  • The Medieval Globe 2.2
    The Medieval Globe 2.2 Lambourn, E.
  • Borrowed Words in an Ocean of Objects: Geniza sources and new cultural histories of the Indian Ocean
    Borrowed Words in an Ocean of Objects: Geniza sources and new cultural histories of the Indian Ocean Lambourn, E. Historical linguistics has much to offer the discipline of history. While recent work on the prehistory of Indian Ocean contacts has turned to historical linguistics to support research into the early circulation of people, crops and domesticates, linguistic evidence is, on the whole, underexploited, and this in spite of well-established evidence for its validity as a methodology in history. This essay explores the way that even the analysis of single words can contribute to the bigger questions of material and linguistic circulation and hybridity in the medieval Indian Ocean.

Click here for a full listing of Elizabeth Lambourn‘s publications and outputs.

Key research outputs

Abraham's Luggage. A Social Life of Things in the Medieval Indian Ocean World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Legal Encounters on the Medieval Globe. Kalamazoo ILL: ARC Humanities Press, 2017.

Research interests/expertise

Indian Ocean histories 600-1500, merchant material cultures, the material worlds of the Cairo Geniza "India Book," circulation and exchange of paper and metalwork. I am interested in supervising PhDs relevant to my areas of expertise and research.

Qualifications

PhD School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

MA (Hons.) University of Edinburgh, summa cum laude.

Membership of external committees

Member of the Comité Scientifique, Red Sea Conference IX, "Networked spaces: the spatiality of networks in the Red Sea and Western Indian Ocean," ENS Lyon, 3-5 July 2019.

Member of Advisory Board, Maldives Heritage Survey. PIs Dr. Michael Feener (Oxford Center for Islamic Studies) and P. Daly (Earth Observatory, Nanyang Technical University, Singapore), Arcadia sponsored

Member of Advisory Group, Royal Ontario Museum, The Indian Ocean: Crossroads of Globalization.

Member of International Advisory Board, Medieval Worlds, supported by the Austrian Academy of Sciences

Membership of professional associations and societies

Fellow of the Royal Historical Society

Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Conference attendance

3 Oct. 2019        Keynote lecture, Cargoes: The materiality of ‘connectivity in motion’ across the Indian Ocean, international Conference, Berlin (co-organised by the Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology, Halle and University of Bonn).

24 April 2019    Pubic lecture, Abraham’s Luggage, Silsila: Center for Material Histories, New York University, New York.

17 Jan. 2019      Public lecture, Abraham’s Luggage, Program in Medieval Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

11 Jan. 2019      Imagining the Oceans, Workshop, St. John’s University, New York (supported by Stanford University).

5-7 Dec. 2018   Keynote lecture: “Abraham's Luggage. Objects and places in the western Indian Ocean world – towards a high-definition “archaeology” of text,” UrbNet Africa 2018 Africa and the Indian Ocean past in high definition, Aarhus University, Denmark.

29-30 Nov. 2018 “Some New Uses of the Genizah Mercantile Letter – On the Materiality of Writing in the Indian Ocean World,” Knowledge Traditions of the Indian Ocean World, convened by Himanshu Prapha Ray, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, University of Oxford.

Current research students

Elham Abu Nab; Anisha Meggi

Externally funded research grants information

1) A Persian Church in the Land of Pepper - Routes, Networks and Communities in the Early Medieval Indian Ocean. 1 December 2011-30 September 2013, Principal Investigator, Co-Investigator Dr. R. Tomber The British Museum, and large network of international scholars. £35,974.66 (AHRC contribution) or £44,968.32 (FEC).

This is funded by an AHRC Network Grant; the research network was initiated in recognition of the pressing need for research into the Indian Ocean world before 1500 and the need to do this through multidisciplinary and trans-regional collaborations.  The network gathers over 25 international scholars from Japan via the UK and India through to the USA to work on the first holistic study of the Kollam plates, a unique set of mid-9th century land grants made to an Eastern Christian Church at this south Indian port.  Among the core themes of the network are issues of legal extraterritoriality and legal encounter, cultural translation and inter-faith cooperation through religious patronage.  The first network workshop, to produce a revised edition and English translation of the Tamil grant will take place at The British Museum on 1 and 2 October 2012; the final workshop is scheduled for summer 2013.  The papers from the final workshop will be published alongside the revised Tamil text and English translation of the core document as a multi-author volume on 9th century Indian Ocean communities and networks with myself as the editor and author of the Introduction.

2) West Asia in the Indian Ocean 500-1500 CE., Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, 1 October 2011 - 30 September 2013. £85,859

Funded by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship West Asia in the Indian Ocean 500-1500 CE is a scholarly text which will write a social and cultural history of West Asian diasporas in the Indian Ocean over the critical millennium from the rise of Islam/Arab expansion across Europe and Asia in the early 7th century to the first large scale entry of European powers into the Indian Ocean during the late 15th century.  The research breaks radically with established disciplinary structures by focusing on a West Asian “diasporic family” rather than on single communities or faiths, and rejects tired land-centred perspectives in favour of a maritime centred viewpoint.  These approaches make this an original and ambitious project in terms of its geographical reach, timeframe and the multi-disciplinarity of its approaches and subject matter.  The research contributes towards the much needed “deep history” of the relationship between West Asia and the Indian Ocean, a history which also contributes to our understanding of the extended Indian Ocean diasporas in contemporary Europe and North America.  The manuscript is scheduled for completion in autumn 2013.

Professional esteem indicators

Member of the AHRC Peer Review College (2012-2019)

Member of Editorial Board, The Medieval Globe (since 2012)

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