The Industry of Empire: Markets, Workers, and Environments across North America’s Pacific Rim

AHA Session 255
Labor and Working Class History Association 6
Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Washington Room 6 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Kathleen Anne Brosnan, University of Oklahoma
Katherine A. Benton-Cohen, Georgetown University

Session Abstract

The Industry of Empire:

 Markets, Workers & Environments Across North America’s Pacific Rim


This panel examines the ways that labor, trade, and cultural exchanges altered and were shaped by diverse environments across North America’s Pacific Rim. Whether referring to persistent efforts to build new infrastructure for the expansion of local farmer’s markets in San Francisco or the very machines and technological systems that transformed logging, mining, and whaling, the theme of industry unites these four papers in a coherent but flexible fashion. Nathan Roberts explores U.S. foresters’ attempts to modernize the timber and lumber industries in the Philippines during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Challenging the dominant historical narrative that successful U.S. imperial practices, including the introduction of American machinery and modernization of methods, introduced broad changes in the Philippines, Roberts evaluates how the Philippine environment and Filipino/a laborers' traditional logging and lumbering practices exposed the limits of U.S. imperialism. Edward Melillo’s essay examines the desertion of workers seeking to escape the imperious and oppressive conditions of ships involved in the whaling and the otter pelt and seal skin trades. His analysis makes stops along the beaches of Hawaii, among the Redwoods of California, and in the mists of the Pacific Northwest to explore how fugitive sailors exploited an extensive knowledge of nature augmented by lessons from local indigenous cultures. Laura Ferguson’s research illuminates the competing interests of different groups of businessmen, state and local government representatives, and northern California farmers by tracing a protracted debate about whether to establish a public produce market at the port of San Francisco. Her work explores the perceived tensions between local and long-distance markets and the strategies each group employed to enforce their vision of a productive waterfront. Robert Chester’s paper will assess the role played by the Comstock Lode in the industrialization of hard-rock mining, the hierarchical organization of labor amongst an ethnically and racially fragmented workforce, and the ways that environmental forces in Nevada and California generated massive investments in hundreds of corporations that transformed business strategies and the nature of opportunity in the second half of the nineteenth century. Dr. Kathleen A. Brosnan, the Paul and Doris Eaton Travis’s Chair of Modern American History at the University of Oklahoma, will serve as the panel’s chair, and Dr. Katherine A. Benton-Cohen from Georgetown University will provide the comment for the four papers.

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