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Underwriting and Cyclones in the Indian Ocean

Thursday Lecture Series, Belongings

dateMay 5, 2022 timeThursday, 12:15pm–1:30pm EDT locationVirtual Event location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia UniversityThis event will take place in person at the Heyman Center and virtually over Zoom.
  • This event will take place in person at the Heyman Center and virtually over Zoom. We ask that EVERYONE REGISTER VIA ZOOM, even those who plan to attend in person. Please read event description for further details.

  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
  • Image Credit/Caption: Chart of Bay of Bengal, Angelo de Conte Freducci, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Chart of Bay of Bengal, Angelo de Conte Freducci, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 16th century

This talk explores how the underwriting practices that developed with Britain’s imperial expansion in the Indian ocean critically shaped the very parameters of meteorology in the early 19th century. Analyzing navigational journals and insurance cases fought in the marine courts in India and the admiralty courts in London, the talk reflects on why tropical cyclones, instead of becoming limits to be overcome through scientific forecasting, were instead financialized and made profitable through a brisk and thriving underwriting business. Bridging economic and environmental history, the talk documents how the very modalities and frameworks for assessing climate disturbance emanated out of these webs of insurance and trade that enveloped the globe during this period.

Debjani Bhattacharyya is Professor and Chair for the History of the Anthropocene at the University of Zurich. Professor Bhattacharyya’s research is driven by the desire to understand how legal and economic structures order our conceptualization of environmental transformations and shape how we respond to climate crisis. Her book, Empire and Ecology in the Bengal Delta: The Making of Calcutta (Cambridge University Press, 2018) won the 2019 honorable mention for the best book in Urban History. The book documents how legal experimentation through the 18th and 19th century was central to reshaping the political economy of urban land and waterscapes in the Bengal delta. Through an environmentally grounded history of the urban land market, it argues that ecological change influenced practices of land speculation, urban planning and property law and shows how marshes were transformed into speculative property in the Bengal Delta. She is currently working on a new monograph on the Indian Ocean region, entitled, Climate Futures' Past: Law and Weather Knowledge in the Indian Ocean World. Ranging from the eighteenth century to the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the book will examine how the marine insurance industry's risk calculations shaped weather knowledge, colonial oceanographic sciences and predictions of climate futures in derivatives markets.

Attendance at SOF/Heyman events will follow Columbia-issued guidelines as they continue to develop. Given the current recommendations, we plan to allow in-person attendance for COLUMBIA AFFILIATES only. For everyone else, we're planning to livestream this event, allowing for virtual attendance.

This event also will be recorded. By being electronically present, you consent to the SOF/Heyman using such video for promotional purposes.

Please email [email protected] to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.