Department of History

Portrait (head shot photo)
Johan Mathew
Associate Professor of History
Degree: Ph.D., Harvard University
Additional Degree(s): Diploma in Arabic, School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), B.A. Princeton University
Rutgers : At Rutgers since 2016
Specialty: Global and Economic History; Indian Ocean
Office: 106 Van Dyck Hall
Phone: 848-932-8380


I am a cultural and social historian of the economy with a particular interest in illicit commerce and how it shapes modern capitalism. Geographically, I have focused on the Indian Ocean but I study and teach transnational and global history more generally. Before coming to Rutgers I was jointly appointed in the Departments of History and Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

My first book, Margins of the Market: Trafficking and Capitalism across the Arabian Sea (University of California Press, 2016), traces the hidden networks that trafficked slaves, guns and gold across the Arabian Sea in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The book shows how capitalism is constituted by the constant process of distinguishing and delegitimizing certain forms of exchange as trafficking. Connected to this project I have several published and forthcoming articles and chapters on trust, corruption, violence, and diaspora in the Indian Ocean world.

I have now turned my attention to a new project tentatively entitled, “Opiates of the Masses: A History of Humanity in the Time of Capital.” This research explores the consumption of cannabis, opium and other narcotics with particular concern for how and why they are consumed by the working classes in the global south. I’m interested in how these substances allow human bodies to adapt to the demands of an industrial production and the time pressures of a capitalist economy. The project is not concerned with drugs so much as the fraught relationship between capitalist markets and the human experience of pain and pleasure.


  • 506:102 World History 1500 to the Present
  • 506:220 Piracy: A Global History
  • 506:299 History Workshop: Slavery and Islam
  • 508:292 Pilgrims, Pirates and Poets: Globalization in the Indian Ocean World
  • 510:541 Colloquium on Global History: Capitalism and its Discontents (Graduate)
  • 090:293 The Political Economy of Piracy (Honors)


  • Margins of the Market: Trafficking and Capitalism across the Arabian Sea (University of California Press, 2016). Winner of the Ralph Gomory Prize, The Business History Conference; the Roger Owen Book Award (Bi-Annual), Middle East Studies Association; the Middle East Political Economy Prize, The Political Economy Project; and the First Monograph Prize in Economic and Social History (Bi-Annual), The Economic History Society.
  • “On Principals and Agency: Reassembling Trust in Indian Ocean Commerce” in Comparative Studies in Society and History (forthcoming, Volume 61, January 2019)
  • “Smoke on the Water: Cannabis Smuggling, Corruption and the Janus-Faced Colonial State” in History Workshop Journal (Volume 86, Autumn 2018)
  • “Spectres of Pan-Islam: Methodological Nationalism and the Origins of Decolonization” in Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 45, no. 6 (December 2017): 942-968.
  • “Sindbad’s Ocean: Reframing the Market in the Middle East,” Roundtable essay in the International Journal of Middle East Studies 48, no. 4 (December 2016): 754-757.
  • “Trafficking Labor: Abolition and the Exchange of Labor across the Arabian Sea, 1861-1947” in Slavery & Abolition 33, no. 1, (March 2012): 139-156.


  • Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, Faculty Fellow
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, John E. Sawyer Seminar Grant, Co-Principal Investigator
  • Business History Conference, Herman E. Krooss Dissertation Prize (Finalist)
  • Social Science Research Council, Postdoctoral Fellowship for Transregional Research
  • Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Graduate Fellowship

Upcoming Events


sq undergraduate


grad students History 1x1


sq faculty


sq events