Pacific Worlds: Connecting Peoples, Histories, and Cultures across Islands, Oceans, and Rims

AHA Session 250
World History Association 3
Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Maryland Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Marc Jason Gilbert, Hawai'i Pacific University
Noelani Arista, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
David B. Igler, University of California, Irvine
Matt K. Matsuda, Rutgers University–New Brunswick
Christine Skwiot, Georgia State University

Session Abstract

In the last generation, oceanic and maritime studies have been expanded by a score of influential interdisciplinary works on trade, migration, cultural encounter, and exchange. New conceptualizations, from Paul Gilroy’s “Black Atlantic,” to the “hundred horizons” of Sugata Bose’s Indian Ocean, to the “sea of islands” of Epeli Hau‘ofa’s Oceania continue to reshape scholarly disciplines. While Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas have long been studied separately, Matt K. Matsuda’s Pacific Worlds: A History of Seas, Peoples, and Cultures (Cambridge, 2012) traces the people and processes that have connected these regions to one another and to the China Seas and Indian and Atlantic Ocean basins. Using his already acclaimed book as a point of departure, our roundtable will take up the question of defining new directions in Pacific histories. From ancient canoe navigators, monumental civilizations, pirates, and seaborne empires, to the rise of tourism, nuclear testing, and global warming, we will range across the frontiers of history and anthropology, from state-building projects in ancient Tonga and late-nineteenth century Hawaiʻi to twentieth-century Pacific Rim economies and politics to draw together the defining threads and extraordinary personal narratives that contribute to the practice and teaching of “the Pacific” and of situating it in comparative, regional, and global history contexts.

Matt Matsuda will open by discussing a key analytic of Pacific Worlds: historical pasts that are trans-local, defined not as places connected, but as connections and links through which diverse actors have generated places; he will present methods for reconstructing oceanic cultures which came from other places yet have always been where they are. Noelani Arista will consider the multiple framings of the Pacific world and its relationship to established fields of historiography: Pacific Island, World, Indigenous, Atlantic and American; she will put these and Maoli historical constructions of “Pacific” pasts and place into provocative dialogue. David Igler will address the challenges and opportunities of making the Pacific a central issue in teaching a range of classes and in charting new directions in US/Pacific scholarship; he will explore the Pacific “waterscape” as a frame of analysis that offers a potential point of departure from the land-based focus of environmental and US historians. Christine Skwiot will analyze recent efforts to “incorporate” the “Pacific” into world historical scholarship and teaching and investigate the potential that Pacific histories hold for charting new directions in comparative and world historical practice and pedagogy. As panelists will talk for only forty minutes, the audience will have ample time to engage us and each other in the sort of lively disagreements, debates, and discussions that are the focus on this annual meeting. We anticipate a dynamic and diverse audience comprising world history teachers and teachers who have internationalized or want to internationalize their courses on American, Asian, Atlantic, European, and Indian Ocean history; a growing body of scholars who are working on the Pacific and on connecting it to other island, landed, and maritime worlds; and, teachers of A.P. World, U.S., and European history.

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