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Tamara Fernando

Tamara Fernando
Jesus College

Cambridge CB5 8BL


I completed my BA (Hons) at Harvard University in History and Literature. I spent a year at Cambridge as a Harvard-Cambridge fellow and completed an MPhil in early modern history. I am now working on my PhD as an International Trust Scholar.

Research Interests

At the height of the global trade in natural pearls from 1880-1945, thousands of men across a circuit of British imperialism in the northern Indian Ocean were employed to perform the hazardous and often coercive labour of ‘free’, ‘naked’ or ‘skin’ diving (that is, without equipment) underwater to retrieve vast quantities of oysters from the seabed to extract their produce. I study three Indian Ocean fisheries together: the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Mannar and Lower Burma. Importantly, this comparative history of the twilight decades of natural pearling foregrounds the two often-forgotten and overlooked actors, the human pearl diver and the non-human mollusc. My project is an environmental and labour history rather than a history of the state or of consumption. This comparative approach to the death of the natural pearl industry allows a new history of the seabed and of human entanglement with it to emerge.

Geographic Focus: 

Sri Lanka
South Asia
Indian Ocean

Thematic Interests:
Oceanic history
World history
Environmental history 
Labour history

Research Supervision

Dr Sujit Sivasundaram

Other Professional Activities

Co-convener, World History workshop 2018-2019


  • Economic, Social History