Insular Cases and Contested Citizenship in Hawai'i, 1880–1920: An Analysis with Vector Space Models

Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:30 PM
Centennial Ballroom A (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Charles W. Romney, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Habeas Corpus arrived in the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1852 when it first appeared in a judicial decision. Until 1880 judges oscillated between defining Habeas Corpus as a right of white descendants of the English common law or as a writ available to all residents in Hawai’i regardless of race. In the 1880s people from a wide range of backgrounds sought access to the writ to solve domestic difficulties at the same time that increasing immigration intensified the judicial debate over accepting Habeas Corpus petitions from Asian migrants. How widely did Habeas Corpus circulate in Hawaii during these years? Did the expanded application of the writ to household disputes and non-white migrants change the conceptual architecture of Habeas Corpus? We can better answer these related questions by using vector space models to measure conceptual shifts in the use of Habeas Corpus. In this paper I use computer code in the programming language R and digitized judicial opinions to explore the writ’s mobility and shifting conceptual architecture in the Kingdom of Hawai’i in the first forty years of its use. Throughout the paper I augment the computational analysis with extensive archival research. Vector space models let us see how ordinary people in Hawaii changed a limited judicial writ into a expansive legal right as Habeas Corpus circulated beyond the Kingdom’s judicial chambers to apartments, boats, and houses.
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