Skip to content

Due to scheduled maintenance, online ordering, in regions where offered, will not be available on this site from 08:00 until noon (GMT) on Sunday 24th February. We apologise for the inconvenience.


Your Cart


You have 0 items in your cart.

Register Sign in Wishlist
Look Inside Ocean of Letters

Ocean of Letters
Language and Creolization in an Indian Ocean Diaspora


Award Winner

Part of Critical Perspectives on Empire

  • Date Published: May 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521739573

£ 16.99

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:

Looking for an inspection copy?

This title is not currently available on inspection

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • Ocean of Letters is a remarkable history of imperialism, language, and creolization in the largest African diaspora of the Indian Ocean in the early modern period. Ranging from Madagascar to the Mascarenes, the Comores, and South Africa, Pier M. Larson sheds new light on the roles of slavery, emancipation, oceanic travel, Christian missions, and colonial linguistics in the making of Malagasy-language literacy in the islands of the western Indian Ocean. He shows how enslaved and free Malagasy together with certain European colonists and missionaries promoted the Malagasy language, literacy projects and letter writing in the multilingual colonial societies of the region between the seventeenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. Addressing current debates in the history of Africa and the African diaspora, slavery, abolition, creolization and the making of modern African literatures, the book crosses thematic as well as geo-imperial boundaries and brings fresh perspectives to Indian Ocean history.

    • The first book-length study of an African diaspora of the Indian Ocean
    • Unique engagement with sources in the native African language of slaves
    • Brings new evidence and fresh perspectives to Indian Ocean history
    Read more


    • Winner of the 2010 Wesley–Logan Prize from the American Historical Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Larson summarizes the approaches of current scholarship to the African diaspora in the Indian Ocean. He brings to the fore the complexities of cross-cultural interactions in asymmetric power relationships in the western Indian Ocean during the early modern period.' The American Historical Review

    'Ocean of Letters is an ambitious book, both in the scale of its archival task - covering French, British and Dutch imperialisms in the Indian Ocean region - and in the sophistication of its argument … With its combination of compelling detail and supple theory, Ocean of Letters is an excellent study about language, diaspora, and archive in the Indian Ocean from the Cambridge Critical Perspectives on Empire series.' Research in African Literatures

    '… this is an important and well-written book on a vibrant and ongoing academic debate about creolisation within the Indian Ocean.' Itinerario

    '… a fascinating historical account of the Malagasy people from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century, focusing on how their vernacular languages survived in a context of slavery or forced dispersion, colonization by successive European powers, and Christian mission.' International Bulletin of Missionary Research

    'Ocean of Letters makes the history of this part of the Indian Ocean [the Comoro and Mascarene islands] much more accessible to an English-speaking audience.' Kate Kingsford, African Affairs

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2009
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521739573
    • length: 398 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.63kg
    • contains: 18 b/w illus. 5 maps 3 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Departures
    2. Conversation and the catechism
    3. The work of the word
    4. The colonial study
    5. The multilingual street
    6. Renaissance: reading and affiliation
    7. Ocean of letters
    8. Pathways of language and Créolité.

  • Author

    Pier M. Larson, The Johns Hopkins University
    Pier M. Larson is Professor of African History at The Johns Hopkins University, USA. A cultural and intellectual historian with interests in social history, he specializes in early modern Madagascar, the Indian Ocean, slavery, religion, literacy, and the global African diasporas. He is the author of History and Memory in the Age of Enslavement: Becoming Merina in Highland Madagascar, 1770–1822 (2000).


    • Winner of the 2010 Wesley–Logan Prize from the American Historical Association

Sign In

Please sign in to access your account


Not already registered? Create an account now. ×

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×

Find content that relates to you

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.