SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Charney, Michael W. (2021) 'Shipbuilding at Chittagong: Fifteenth-Nineteenth Centuries.' In: Berthet, Samuel, (ed.), Shipbuilding, Navigation and the South-West Silk Road: North Odisha, Bengal and Arakan. Delhi: Primus, pp. 157-174.

This is the latest version of this item.

Full text not available from this repository.


The boatbuilding industry in the Chittagong area was a more flexible and dynamic industry than historians generally allow. Rather than being a great boatbuilding centre that was eclipsed and fell into decline, the historical trajectory of boatbuilding in the area has been far more erratic. This is in part because of environmental fragility: the intersection of uneven demand and the availability of timber resources determined the rhythm of local boatbuilding. When demand grew too high, timber. ShipbuIldIng at chIttagong, fIfteenth to nIneteenth centurIes resources were outstripped, and when demand fell, timber resources revived. While knowledge of how to build larger ‘blue water’ ships might have been lost due to war, the basic boatbuilding technology was diffused throughout society as a whole, and thus was always waiting for the revival of the environment to make boatbuilding possible once again. the social breadth of technological ownership also ensured continuity in boat design and hence many of the boats used locally until the present were the same kinds of boats encountered there throughout the early modern period. This analysis also raises questions about historical research methodology on areas at the divide between regions in contemporary area studies. area studies—built around geographical frameworks established during World War ii as well as in its aftermath, during the ‘handover’ of global Anglo-American dominance from Britain to the united States—exist for the convenience of American interests. this study, however, has shown that the impact of area studies on historical scholarship has had the effect of obscuring important developments that were out of sync with its regionalization schemes, which is at the root of so many other misunderstandings of local societies and history. The boundaries between South and Southeast Asia place limits on our vision, which can complicate our understanding of the history of a local industry like boatbuilding. despite the material culture of the area being shared throughout the Rakhine littoral, the emergence of the modern national boundaries of Bangladesh and Myanmar obscure this sharing, and the application of ethnic belongingness to this culture make it blind to its broader regional remit altogether. by examining boatbuilding in the area, the present study makes a call for a re-examination of the history of the Rakhine region, north and south of the Naf, which looks around the exclusive national, ethnic, and religious lines that divide up so many of the shared elements that have defined and continue to shape this region’s history.

Item Type: Book Chapters
Keywords: Shipbuilding, Bangladesh, Technology Transfer, Area Studies, Chittagong, Bay of Bengal, Rakhine, Myanmar
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of History, Religions & Philosophies > Department of History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
ISBN: 9789390737673
Date Deposited: 19 Jul 2021 13:35
Related URLs: (Publisher URL)

Altmetric Data

There is no Altmetric data currently associated with this item.

Available Versions of this Item

  • Shipbuilding at Chittagong: Fifteenth-Nineteenth Centuries. (deposited 19 Jul 2021 13:35) [Currently Displayed]


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item