In the nineteenth century, one group of American merchants reported an odd request from the Vietnamese emperor. An envoy asked if the traders could help procure a commodity brought by a previous delegation: a precious good that turned out to be a bottle of Best Durham bottled mustard.
That’s one small anecdote in Eric Tagliocozzo’s latest book, In Asian Waters: Oceanic Worlds from Yemen to Yokohama (Princeton University Press: 2022), which charts hundreds of years of history across Asia’s waters, from the South China Sea through the Persian Gulf. Eric weaves together historical research and on-the-ground fieldwork to show how Asia’s oceans can be a better way to understand the region than its land borders.
In this interview, Eric and I talk about these Asian waters, stretching from the Middle East to East Asia, and the history and fieldwork that went into Eric’s book.
Eric Tagliacozzo is the John Stambaugh Professor of History at Cornell University. His many books include Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States along a Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865–1915 (Yale University Press: 2009) and The Longest Journey: Southeast Asians and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Oxford University Press: 2013).
You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of In Asian Waters. Follow on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.