By Jane Hooper
“Historian Jane Hooper concludes this engaging monograph by calling the American presence in the western Indian Ocean ‘a complicated, disorganized mess.’ Focusing on New England merchants and whalers in the southwest Indian Ocean region, the book is, nevertheless, a welcome addition to scholarship on American expansion and Indian Ocean history. Ship logbooks and journals are notoriously difficult to employ for historians unless one is looking for sailing directions and weather conditions, but by diligently teasing out meaningful snippets of information about the practical matters of American merchants and whalers, sea travel, provisioning, and slaving, and locating them in their wider nineteenth-century American cultural and expansionist context, Jane Hooper succeeds admirably.”
Edward A. Alpers, author of The Indian Ocean in World History
“Long acknowledged but only cursorily explored, the presence of American merchants in the western Indian Ocean has finally been given its due in this fine examination of their brief but consequential maritime engagement with the islands and coasts of East Africa and Madagascar. Through an insightful use of ship logbooks and journals (among other sources), Hooper illuminates the range of ‘Yankee’ activity to make clear that ports and islands in the southwestern Indian Ocean attracted significant American investment as New England merchants sought profits in new areas between the late eighteenth century and the middle of the nineteenth that ranged from whaling to illegal slave trading.”
Pedro Machado, coeditor of Pearls, People, and Power: Pearling and Indian Ocean Worlds
The history of US imperialism remains incomplete without this consideration of long-overlooked nineteenth-century American commercial and whaling ventures in the Indian Ocean.
Yankees in the Indian Ocean shows how nineteenth-century American merchant and whaler activity in the Indian Ocean shaped the imperial future of the United States, influenced the region’s commerce, encouraged illegal slaving, and contributed to environmental degradation. For a brief time, Americans outnumbered other Western visitors to Mauritius, Madagascar, Zanzibar, and the East African littoral. In a relentless search for commodities and provisions, American whaleships landed at islands throughout the ocean and stripped them of resources. Yet Americans failed to develop a permanent foothold in the region and operated instead from a position of weakness relative to other major colonizing powers, thus discouraging the development of American imperial holdings there.
The history of American concerns in the Indian Ocean world remains largely unwritten. Scholars who focus on the region have mostly ignored American involvement, despite arguments for the ocean’s importance in powering global connections during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Historians of the United States likewise have failed to examine the western Indian Ocean because of a preoccupation with US interests in Asia and the Pacific. Failing to understand the scale of American trade in the Indian Ocean has led to a fixation on European commercial strength to the exclusion of other maritime networks. Instead, this book reveals how the people of Madagascar and East Africa helped the United States briefly dominate commerce and whaling.
This book investigates how and why Americans were drawn to the western Indian Ocean years before the United States established a formal overseas empire in the late nineteenth century. Ship logs, sailor journals, and travel narratives reveal how American men transformed foreign land- and seascapes into knowable spaces that confirmed American conceptions of people and natural resources; these sources also provide insight into the complex social and ecological worlds of the Indian Ocean during this critical time.
Jane Hooper is an associate professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University. She is the author of two Ohio University Press books: Feeding Globalization: Madagascar and the Provisioning Trade, 1600–1800 (2017) and Yankees in the Indian Ocean: American Commerce and Whaling, 1786–1860. Her scholarly interests include piracy, queens, and slave trading in the Indian Ocean. More info →
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