Appraising risk, past and present.
Interrogating historical data to enhance understanding of environmental crises in the Indian Ocean World

In an international partnership funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and anchored at McGill University, multidisciplinary research teams explore the critical role of climatic crisis in the past and future of the Indian Ocean World (

The role of historical experiences in contemporary policy making
Environmental change is an alarming reality, with rising sea levels and increasingly intense droughts, often accompanied by crop failure, famine, conflict over natural resources, and migration. Several countries most at risk lie in the Indian Ocean World (IOW). This region is a significant global socio-ecological system, which has always been profoundly affected by a complex interplay between human and environmental factors. What occurs in the IOW as a result of environmental changes is thus of major economic, political and humanitarian concern. However, currently employed tools of environmental risk perception and governance (ERPG) appear inadequate as they usually rely on historically shallow data focused on individual crises, and fail to fully take into account local concepts of environmental risk. Against this background, the research team ‘Contemporary Policy’ led by Julia Verne within this partnership, examines the integration of historical data and local experiences in current forms of risk perception and disaster management.

The potential of historical narratives for flood management in Kerala, India
One research focus is on flood management in India, with particular attention to the state of Kerala where rapid urbanisation, industrialisation, and increased population density lead to land-use changes and an increasing vulnerability towards flooding. In light of the strong influence of global policies and frameworks on national disaster management plans, Rupa Rupa examines the potential impact of local experiences and ways of living with the water to enhance current disaster management efforts. As part of her PhD research, she (1) critically examines the different impulses informing the making of disaster policies at the national as well as the regional level, (2) crossreads historical narratives with contemporary policy implications, and (3) develops a simulation to discuss the effects of different responses to floods with local communities and risk managers

Project team:
Prof. Dr. Julia Verne, Dr. Malve Jacobsen, Everjoy Grace Chiimba, Rupa Rupa (all JGU Mainz), Prof. Dr. Brian Tomaszewski (Rochester Institute of Technology) ( , Dr. Ganapathy (Vellore Institute of Technology) ( , Prof. Dr. Sandra Joireman (University of Richmond) ( , Abdul Fikri Angga Reksa (LIPI Indonesia) (

Project-related publications:

Neuhöfer, R., & Pilgrim, H. (2022). The Journey of Cloves: Historical Trajectories and New Dynamics of Organic Labeling on Zanzibar. In B. Schnepel & J. Verne (Eds.), Cargoes in Motion: Materiality and Connectivity across the Indian Ocean. Ohio University Press: Athens.

Matejcek, A. & Verne, J. (2021). Restoration-as-development? Contesting Aspirational Politics Regarding the Restoration of Wildlife Corridors in the Kilombero Valley, Tanzania. The European Journal of Development Research. 10.1057/s41287-021-00403-2.

Verne, J. (2020) Der Indische Ozean als relationale maritime Region. Geographische Rundschau 4, 20, 4-10.

Verne, J. (2019) The ends of the Indian Ocean: Tracing coastlines in the Tanzanian hinterland, History of Africa 46, 359-383.

Verne, J. (2019) All things transregional? Potentiale und grenzen transregionaler Forschungsperspektiven, in: Forum Transregionale Studien (Hrsg.) All things transregional?, Max Weber Stiftung: Berlin.

Verne, J. (2018) Transregionalität am Beispiel des Indischen Ozeans: Relationale Raumkonzeptionen in den Regionalwissenschaften, in: Wippel, S. & Fischer-Tahir, A. (Hrsg.) Jenseits etablierter Meta-Geographien: Der Nahe Osten und Nordafrika in transregionaler Perspektive, Nomos: Baden-Baden.

Verne, J. (2017) The neglected gift of Ratzel: thoughts on mobilities, materialities and relational spaces, Geographica Helvetica 72, 85-92.