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Abraham's Luggage
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Book description

From a single merchant's list of baggage begins a history that explores the dynamic world of medieval Indian Ocean exchanges. This fresh and innovative perspective on Jewish merchant activity shows how this list was a component of broader trade connections that developed between the Islamic Mediterranean and South Asia in the Middle Ages. Drawing on a close reading of this unique twelfth-century document, found in the Cairo Genizah and written in India by North African merchant Abraham Ben Yiju, Lambourn focuses on the domestic material culture and foods that structured the daily life of such India traders, on land and at sea. This is an exploration of the motivations and difficulties of maintaining homes away from home, and the compromises that inevitably ensued. Abraham's Luggage demonstrates the potential for writing challenging new histories in the accidental survival of apparently ordinary ephemera.


‘Transforming a twelfth-century list into a history of the stuff of life, Lambourn brilliantly demonstrates how Southern India was linked to the Middle East. From the production of food to the maintenance of purity, and even staying watered and well on the journey itself, this is exemplary Indian Ocean history.'

Michael Laffan - Princeton University, New Jersey

‘Abraham's Luggage opens a fascinating window onto a world of interconnected Indic, Islamic, and Jewish traditions in the medieval Indian Ocean. From cultures of dining, gifting, medicine, packing, and religious ritual to mercantile shopping habits and shipping, the book is awash with original insights. Its holistic approach offers a compelling and innovative model of interdisciplinary scholarship.'

Finbarr Barry Flood - Institute of Fine Arts and founder-director of Silsila: Center for Material Histories, New York University

‘Lambourn's deeply learned and intellectually enterprising reconstruction of the biology and materiality of travel along the maritime highways of the western Indian Ocean enriches our understanding of how humans have inhabited ships and the high seas in a crucial period of world history.'

Roxani Eleni Margariti - Emory University, Georgia

‘Elizabeth Lambourn brings to life the trip home to Egypt of a twelfth-century Jewish trader, transforming a Geniza fragment into a mirror of macrohistory and reconstructing the life of a Mediterranean household in India. A fascinating, path-breaking study for Geniza research and the history of material culture in the Indian Ocean.'

Mordechai Akiva Friedman - Tel-Aviv University, Israel

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