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The contributors to this special issue piece together fragments from the colonial archives to write life histories of non-elites and colonized peoples who were mobile in and around the Indian Ocean from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. They take a biographical approach as a critical perspective to explore historically the nature, meaning, and lived experiences of empire in the Indian Ocean. The aim of the issue is not to excavate “typical” or generalized subaltern experiences. Rather, each author seeks to make an intervention on how the writing of life history might shed new light on some of the practices and processes associated with imperial expansion and the ways in which individuals lived them. Further, the contributors draw attention to the need to think of “subalternity” as a fluid and contingent process rather than as a stable tag of identity. The articles also shift attention away from a consideration of metropole/colony in histories of empire and towards a focus on intra- and inter-colonial connections and relationships.