A University of the Sciences professor is among 30 international scholars exploring the mysterious and medieval Indian Ocean world. Leah Comeau
, PhD, assistant professor of religion, and a team of researchers have spent the past year studying a set of ancient copper plates that describe a contract between coastal and trading communities in Kollam, a town in present-day Kerala, India.
“The Indian Ocean was one of the first maritime spaces of human travel and exchange, but it is also one of the least well researched,” said Dr. Comeau. “Our goal as researchers is to collaborate to form new interpretations of the Kollam plates, and then translate them into English.”
Although the Kollam plates have been known to European scholars since the early 19th century, they are so complex to read that they had never previously been studied as a single document. Dr. Comeau said this project is the first complete study of its kind and will be used as a starting point for groundbreaking exploration of the Indian Ocean world.
Known as “copper plate grants,” these documents from the ninth century are one of the main sources for early Indian history as they were used to transcribe important legal documents. Dr. Comeau said these plates will provide a wealth of information about religious groups, including Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews; as well as information regarding trade routes and taxing procedures, and material goods that were traded throughout West Asia.
“Through this study, a new picture emerges of a cosmopolitan port where different peoples, practices, and interests were negotiated through legal agreements,” said Dr. Comeau, who received her MA and PhD degrees in religious studies from University of Pennsylvania.
Housed under the University’s Misher College of Arts and Sciences
, Dr. Comeau teaches courses which address religious histories in India and Asia, religious literature, and gender and sexuality studies. Her research regarding the Kollam plates ties in with her teachings at the University.
A traveling exhibition of four large banners has been carrying the results of this research to a wide range of locations across the world since November. The exhibition will be on display in the USciences library from Feb. 17-28; then again at University of Pennsylvania from March 3-28. Primus Books will publish these findings next year and include a new edition and English translation of the Kollam plates.
For more information regarding this research, click here