The “Material Worlds” project is best described as an umbrella project, a broadly defined (in fact potentially boundless) project focused on various aspects of Indian and Indian Ocean material culture and materiality, as evidenced through documents from the Cairo Geniza. Thus far it includes a substantial 120,000 word research monograph, Abraham’s Luggage, three articles (one co-authored), and plans for a further collaborative project with Amir Ashur on metal working and metals circulation.
The “India Book” is filled with loanwords that often defy translation, even if their context often gives a good pointer to the type of thing referred to. The footnotes of India Traders of the Middle Ages are filled with identifications and, just as often, puzzled or speculative suggestions. In an article entitled “Borrowed words in an ocean of objects” I made a humble start at untangling some of these terms and explored the voyages of two Indic loanwords – tālam and fātiya – into Judaeo-Arabic and Arabic and their peregrinations across the centuries in the Yemen and even as far as Egypt’s Nile delta.
It was a privilege to be able to propose “Borrowed words” for inclusion in a festschrift dedicated to M.G.S. Narayanan, one the preeminent historians of medieval South India, and edited by my colleagues Kesavan Veluthat and Donald Davis Jr. Irreverent History: Essays for M.G.S. Narayanan appeared in 2014 with Primus Books in New Delhi.
Another festschrift contribution – yet to appear, so I cannot reveal the title of the volume and its recipient – this article expands and complements material included in the introductory chapters of Abraham’s Luggage.
The surviving letters, memoranda and annual accounts of the India traders are rich with allusions to the commerce and, with less focus, the politics of northern Malabar during the 1130s and 1140s, a period for which local, Indian, sources are few and often opaque. Thus, rather than fitting neatly into a secure historical context this Indian correspondence contributes substantially new information for the history of the region in the 12th century and often challenges understandings of Malabari history. “India in the “India Book: 12thcentury northern Malabar through Geniza documents” pieces together new information on the politics, economy and networks of the northern Malabar coast during these decades to propose a more rounded understanding of the geography and chronology of Jewish trade in South India.