Fahad Ahmad Bishara

Associate Professor, Indian Ocean History
Rouhollah Ramazani Associate Professor of Arabian Peninsula and Gulf Studies

(434) 924-6423
Nau 253
Office Hours: By Appointment


B.A. University of Southern California, 2004
M.A. University of Exeter, 2006
Ph.D. Duke University, 2012


I specialize in the economic and legal history of the Indian Ocean and Islamic world. My book, A Sea of Debt: Law and Economic Life in the Western Indian Ocean, 1780-1950 (Cambridge University Press, 2017) is a legal history of economic life in the Western Indian Ocean, told through the story of the Arab and Indian settlement and commercialization of East Africa during the nineteenth century. It was the recipient of the J. Willard Hurst Prize (awarded by the Law and Society Association), the Jerry Bentley prize (awarded by the World History Association), and the Peter Gonville Stein book award (given by the American Society for Legal History). I'm currently writing an Indian Ocean history told from the deck of a twentieth-century dhow, drawing on the archives of a number of merchant and dhow captain families from Kuwait. The project (essentially a microhistory that unfolds over a broad canvas) takes on issues of global capitalism, international law, empire, and mobility in historical writing. Although I maintain a biding commitment to legal history, I have recently developed an interest in questions of scale and narration in historical writing (particularly in global history, transregional history, and microhistory) and the questions they raise for how we write about more abstract concepts like law and capitalism.



A Sea of Debt: Law and Economic Life in the Western Indian Ocean, 1780-1950. Cambridge University Press, 2017.


“The Sailing Scribes: Circulating Law in the Twentieth Century Indian Ocean,” Law and History Review (forthcoming, 2023)

“The Stuff of Legal History,” an Afterword to the Forum “The Everyday Materials of Colonial Legal Spaces,” Law and History Review, Vol. 40, Issue 3 (2022): 491-493.

“Circulation and Capitalism in a Maritime Bazaar: Notes from a Pearl Merchant’s Chest,” Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Vol. 24, No. 1 (2022): 107-117.

“History at Sea: Route and World on an Indian Ocean Dhow,” Matatu, Vol. 52 (2021): 9–34.

“The Diver’s New Papers: Wealth, People, and Property in a Persian Gulf Bazaar,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 64 (2021): 513-540.

With Nandini Chatterjee, “Introduction: The Persianate Bazaar,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 64 (2021): 487-512.

Co-authored with Hollian Wint, “Into the Bazaar: Indian Ocean Vernaculars in the Age of Global Capitalism,” Journal of Global History, Vol. 16, No. 1 (2021): 44-64.

“The Many Voyages of Fateh Al-Khayr: Unfurling the Gulf in the Age of Oceanic History,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 52, No. 3 (2020): 397-412.

“Law and Economic Life in the Islamic World,” History Compass (April 2020)

“Imagining Oceans of Law, circa 1910,” Itinerario, Vol. 42, Special Issue 2 (2018), pp. 168-182.

"No Country but the Ocean: Reading International Law from the Deck of an Indian Ocean Dhow, c. 1900," Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 60, No. 2 (2018), pp. 338-366

“Ships Passing in the Night? Reflections on the Middle East in the Indian Ocean” International Journal of Middle East Studies, Roundtable on the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean (December 2016) pp. 758-762

“Paper Routes: Inscribing Islamic Law Across the Nineteenth-Century Western Indian Ocean” Law and History Review, Vol. 32, No. 4 (2014), pp. 797-820

“A Sea of Debt: Histories of Commerce and Obligation in the Indian Ocean, c. 1850-1940” Enterprise and Society, Vol. 15, No. 4 (2014), pp. 643-654

Book Chapters

“The Waraqa: The Biography of an Obligation” in World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean (Krannert Art Museum, 2018)

“Writing Across the Waters in the Gulf and Indian Ocean” in Between East and West: A Gulf, a written accompaniment to Kuwait’s Pavilion at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia (2016)

With Patricia Risso, “The Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Arab World” in J.E. Peterson, ed., The Emergence of the Gulf States: Studies in Modern History (London: Bloomsbury, 2016)

With Bernard Haykel, Steffen Hertog, Clive Holes, and James Onley, “The Economic Transformation of the Gulf” in J.E. Peterson, ed., The Emergence of the Gulf States: Studies in Modern History (London: Bloomsbury, 2016)

Riwāyah and Tārīkh: Sources and Scholarship in Arabic Gulf Historiography” in Lawrence G. Potter, ed., The Gulf in Modern Times: People, Ports and History (New York: Palgrave, 2014)

“Mapping the Indian Ocean World of Gulf Merchants, c. 1890-1960” in Abdul Sheriff and Engseng Ho, eds., The Indian Ocean: Oceanic Connections and Creation of New Societies (New York: Hurst, 2014)


Kuwait and the Sea: an Economic and Social History, translation of the original Arabic Al-Nashātāt al-Bahriyya al-Qadīma fī al-Kuwayt, by Yacoub Y. Al-Hijji (London: Arabian Publishing, 2010)

Book Reviews

Review of Eric Staples, ed., A Maritime Lexicon: Arabic Nautical Terminology in the Indian Ocean (Georg Olms Verlag, 2019), Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. 82, No. 1 (2020), pp. 146-148.

Review of Thomas F. McDow, Buying Time: Debt and Mobility in the Western Indian Ocean (Ohio University Press, 2018), Canadian Journal of African Studies, Vol. 53, No. 1 (2019), pp. 186-188.

Review of Renisa Mawani, Across Oceans of Law: The Komagatu Maru and Jurisdiction in the Time of Empire (Duke University Press, 2018) for H-Diplo (February 2019) <>

Review of Sherene Seikaly, Men of Capital: Scarcity and Economy in Mandate Palestine (Stanford University Press, 2017), Enterprise & Society, Vol. 19, No. 4 (2018) pp. 1028-1031

Review of Scott S. Reese, Imperial Muslims: Islam, Community, and Authority in the Indian Ocean, 1839-1937 (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2017), in Die Welts des Islams, No. 58 (2018), pp. 245-265

Review of Eric Staples and Abdulrahman Al-Salimi, eds., Oman: A Maritime History (Hildesheim, Zürich and New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2016), in International Journal of Maritime History, Vol. 30, No. 1 (2018) pp. 144-146

Review of Matthew S. Hopper, Slaves of One Master: Globalization and Slavery in Arabia in the Age of Empire (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015), in Itinerario, Vol. 40, No. 1 (2016) pp. 170-172

Review of Elke Stockreiter, Islamic Law, Gender, and Social Change in Post-Abolition Zanzibar (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015), in Law and History Review, Vol. 34, No. 1 (2016) pp. 235-237

Review of John C. Wilkinson, The Arabs and the Scramble for Africa (Sheffield, UK: Equinox, 2015) in Journal of Arabian Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3 (2015)

Review of Chhaya Goswami, The Call of the Sea: Kachchhi Traders in Muscat and Zanzibar, c. 1800-1880 (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2011) in The Indian Economic and Social History Review, Vol. 50 (January–March, 2013) pp. 113-115

“Indian Islam in the Age of Industry,” Review of Nile Green, Bombay Islam: the Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean, 1840-1915 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011) for H-Empire (September, 2011)

Review of Lawrence Potter, ed., The Persian Gulf in History (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) in Journal of Arabian Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2011)

Review of Karl Gratzer and Dieter Stiefel, eds., History of Insolvency and Bankruptcy from an International Perspective (Huddinge: Södertörns högskola, 2008) in Business History Review, Vol. 83, Issue 4 (Winter 2009) pp. 872-875