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Keynote Address

Amitav Ghosh
Keynote Speaker Amitav Ghosh


Embattled Earth: Commodities, Conflict, and Climate Change in the Indian Ocean


Since the time of Vasco da Gama’s voyage, the Indian Ocean has been the theatre of intense imperial rivalries over commodities and resources. For centuries, the main players in these conflicts were Western colonial powers, but over the last few decades the countries of the Indian Ocean rim have themselves become major consumers of commodities and resources. As such, they are now among the principal drivers of anthropogenic climate change, an ongoing process that will have catastrophic consequences for the billions of people who live around the Indian Ocean. This presentation explores the continuities between the resource conflicts of the past and the future by focusing on two transformative imperial wars: the Anglo-Dutch spice wars of the 17th century and the 1st Opium War of 1840-42. It also poses some related questions: are the imperatives of empire and military supremacy among the major drivers of climate change? If so, why are these issues generally elided? Does the fact that the discourse on climate change is largely produced within university-based contexts have anything to do with this elision?


(from the author’s website)

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. He studied in Delhi, Oxford, and Alexandria and is the author of The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide, and the first two volumes of The Ibis Trilogy: Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke.

The Circle of Reason was awarded France’s Prix Médicis in 1990, and The Shadow Lines won two prestigious Indian prizes the same year—the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar. The Calcutta Chromosome won the Arthur C. Clarke award for 1997 and The Glass Palace won the International e-Book Award at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2001. In January 2005, The Hungry Tide was awarded the Crossword Book Prize, a major Indian award. His novel, Sea of Poppies (2008) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, 2008, and was awarded the Crossword Book Prize and the India Plaza Golden Quill Award.

Amitav Ghosh’s work has been translated into more than 30 languages and he has served on the jury of the Locarno Film Festival (Switzerland) and the Venice Film Festival (2001). Amitav Ghosh’s essays have been published in The New Yorker, The New Republic, and The New York Times. His essays have been published by Penguin India (“The Imam and the Indian”) and Houghton Mifflin USA (“Incendiary Circumstances”). He has taught in many universities in India and the USA, including Delhi University, Columbia, Queens College, and Harvard. In January 2007, he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest honors, by the President of India. In 2010, Amitav Ghosh was awarded honorary doctorates by Queens College, New York, and the Sorbonne, Paris. Along with Margaret Atwood, he was also a joint winner of a Dan David Award for 2010. In 2011, he was awarded the International Grand Prix of the Blue Metropolis Festival in Montreal.


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Illinois 150: The 21st Century Research University and the Public Good by Kevin Hamilton, Paul Michael Leonardo Atienza, Jessica Harless, Kelsey Hassevoort, Robin Holland, Marcelo Boccato Kuyumjian, Allison LaHood, Beatriz Esmeralda Maldonado, Robert M Rouphail, Majid Shafiee-Jood, Lettycia Terrones, and Kevin Wallington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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