Amitava Chowdhury

Amitava Chowdhury

UNESCO Recognizes History Graduate's Work with World Heritage Designation

A mountain juts into the Indian Ocean off the southwest side of the island of Mauritius. It is called Le Morne. There, centuries ago, its caves—isolated, wooded, and almost inaccessible—provided shelter for runaway slaves called maroons.

Amitava Chowdhury, who earned his doctoral degree in history from WSU Vancouver in May 2008, recently directed an archaeological project at Le Morne Brabant, a fugitive slave site on Mauritius, that contributed to its inscription by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage site in June.

The Le Morne Cultural Landscape is where escaped slaves from the African mainland, Madagascar, India, and Southeast Asia formed small settlements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The oral traditions associated with the maroons have made it a symbol of escape, freedom, suffering, and sacrifice.

Le Morne

Le Morne archaeological site on Mauritius. Photo courtesy of UNESCO.

World Heritage sites are selected, according to UNESCO, on the basis of 6 cultural and 4 natural criteria that include the representation of human genius, important interchange of human values, testimony to exceptional cultural tradition, and exemplary landscape that illustrates a significant stage in human history or is directly or tangibly associated with events, traditions, ideas, or beliefs of outstanding universal significance.

Le Morne is such a place, and Chowdhury's research, which focuses on the identity formation processes of the Indian indentured labor diasporas in the Caribbean and the Indian Oceans, was significant to its recognition.

Chowdhury received his B.A. in history from Jadaypur University in Calcutta, India, and his M.A. in ancient Indian history, culture, and archaeology from Deccan College Research Institute in Pune, India.

Before moving to the U.S. in 2004, Chowdhury served as the head of the history unit in the Department of Humanities at the University of Mauritius and as chief archaeological consultant on the Aapravasi Ghat project, Mauritius, which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.

This fall Chowdhury joined the faculty at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, as assistant professor of Caribbean and world history.

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