Abraham’s Luggage

Abraham’s LuggageStarted in the summer of 2011 as a “quick” article about TS NS 324.114, a list of luggage drawn up by an India trader in South India, the article eventually grew into a double length book and the major output of my 2011-13 Leverhulme Major Research Project on “West Asia in the Indian Ocean World 500-1500.” Instead of the macro survey and synthesis I first intended, Abraham’s Luggage is an exploration of the micro-historical potential of the “India Book documents, a study of one West Asian in the Indian Ocean of the period.

Abraham’s Luggage offers a fresh and methodologically sophisticated perspective on Jewish merchant activity in the Indian Ocean – a component of the broader trade connections that developed between the Islamic Mediterranean and South Asia in the Middle Ages. Premised on a close reading of a unique twelfth-century document found in the Cairo Geniza – a single list of luggage drawn up in India by the north African merchant Abraham Ben Yiju – the book focuses on the domestic material culture and foodstuffs that structured the daily life of such India traders, both on land in India, and at sea onboard the ocean-going ships that underpinned their mobility.

Drawing on anthropological insights into the connections between material culture, foodstuffs and identity construction, the book explores the varied motivations and logistical challenges involved in maintaining a home away from home, and the compromises that necessarily ensued. Abraham’s Luggage represents one of the first synthetic works to make use of the so-called “India Book” documents, a sub-corpus of the Cairo Geniza typically exploited for its contribution to business and economic history. In so doing, it demonstrates the huge potential of the Geniza for writing new and different Indian Ocean histories, even from the most unprepossessing ephemera.

The volume was published in 2018 with Cambridge University Press in their Asian Connections series.