The Beds Of Empire: Power And Profit At The Pearl Fisheries Of South India And Sri Lanka, C. 1770-1840
South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies
The Gulf of Mannar—the shallow body of water between present-day India and Sri Lanka—was one of the largest sources of natural pearls in the world for at least two millennia. This dissertation focuses on a relatively brief period during which managerial control over the human and natural resources of the pearling industry transferred from Dutch to British powers. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries also witnessed a shift in political economic thought, as classical liberalism dislodged mercantilism as the prevailing framework for interpreting the relationship between the state and economy. The Company and Crown governments brought an assemblage of ideas to bear on the management and governance of people and oysters that sought to not only increase productivity but also fundamentally reshape the social, economic, and political foundations of the pearling industry. However, the attempt by British officials to extricate local networks and institutions from pearling operations was fraught with contradictions and seldom delivered on the promise of reform. Through an examination of key targets of government intervention—labor, markets, merchants, sovereignty, and corruption—this dissertation explores the interstices between success and failure and tracks such developments through the evolving contexts of colonialism and imperialism in India and Sri Lanka.