The Myth of Immobility: Women and Travel in the British Imperial Indian Ocean

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For decades, historians have argued that the networks of Indian Ocean travel and commerce were a “man’s game.” Men ranged widely across the sea in search of wealth and employment while women stayed at home. This article presents evidence that demonstrates such an understanding of female immobility is greatly overstated. Using the Aden records of the Indian Office Library, this essay first challenges the common assumption that women, of any religious confession, were rarely participants in the networks of movement that shaped Britain’s Indian Ocean realm. Second, it calls into question the widely held notion that female believers had little legal agency under the double yoke of British colonial authority and Islamic law. As such, this article illustrates the dynamic role of women within the milieu of the modern Indian Ocean and their place as active agents in the construction of transregional communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-320
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of World History
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Aden
  • British Empire
  • Indian Ocean
  • Islam
  • colonialism
  • gender

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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