Omani Diplomacy and Maritime Trade in the Indian Ocean World, 1792-1856

By Ian Smith
Submitted to Session S6704 (CUMES Undergraduate Research Poster Presentation, 2021 Annual Meeting
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When considering the dynamics of the nineteenth-century Indian Ocean, many historians consider the British Empire the premier maritime power. Interestingly, England’s greatest political and economic challenger in this resource-rich region arose not in Europe, but in Oman, a small state on the eastern fringes of the Arab world overlooking the Persian Gulf. Oman emerged as a thalassocracy during the reigns of Sultan bin Ahmad (r. 1792-1804) and Said bin Sultan (r. 1807-1856). Many scholars agree with Reda Bhaker, who argues that England and other Western powers manipulated the Omani state to serve their economic goals, leading to its dissolution after 1856. My research, however, will assess how the Albusaid dynasty set economic policies and engaged diplomatically with foreign and regional powers as Omani merchants engaged in trade along the coast of East Africa. I have begun to investigate the influence of Omani merchants and rulers in published primary sources, like Vincenzo Maurizi’s History of Sayid Said (1819) and Hamid ibn Ruzayq’s History of the Sayyids and Imams of Oman (1871). These sources suggest a need to further investigate the economic liberalizaion by the Albusaid rulers as well as their relocation of their primary commercial center from Muscat to Zanzibar. Having studied Arabic at Purdue University, I can write and read at an upper-intermediate level. As I gain fluency, I hope to examine documents archived at Oman’s National Archives and Records Authority, the Sayid Mohammed bin Ahmad Albusaidi Library, and the Zanzibar National Archives. I believe these sources will allow me to assess what I consider to be Oman’s under-appreciated contributions to the Indian Ocean world. In doing so, my research will contribute to conversations about the role of this regional power in the evolution of European imperialism and maritime commerce.