Our Mission

The Indian Ocean World Centre (IOWC) at McGill University is a research initiative and resource base established to promote the study of the history, economy, and cultures of the lands and peoples of the Indian Ocean world (IOW) – from China to Southeast and South Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

This macro-region witnessed the early emergence of major centres of production and a monsoon-based system of trans-oceanic trade that led to the emergence by c. 300 BCE of a sophisticated and durable system of long-distance exchange of commodities, monies, technology, ideas, and people. The IOW was thus home to the first “global” economy, one that dominated the macro-region until at least the mid-eighteenth century, and which is again resurgent. Today the IOW comprises of 50% of the planet’s population and contains fast developing countries, notably China which is poised to overtake the USA as the world’s leading economy.

The IOWC pursues an interdisciplinary approach inspired by French historian Fernand Braudel (b. 1902–1985) who posited history as an ongoing interaction between human and natural forces, encompassing geography, environment, climate, and disease. The Centre’s current research priorities include:

  • The rise and development of the first global economy
  • Human migration and diaspora in the IOW
  • Systems of bondage and trafficking of humans in the IOW
  • IOW exchange of commodities, technology and ideas