Infrastructure and Power in the Pacific, 18401940

AHA Session 5
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Crystal Room (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Shellen X. Wu, University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Shellen X. Wu, University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Session Abstract

This panel attends to the construction and maintenance of global infrastructures to understand how state power operates beyond the confines of the territorial polity. Comprising both material structures and the organizational forms and knowledge that render them useful, infrastructure mediates how local users engage larger systems. Attending to infrastructure, then, allows historians to move between multiple scales—the local, the regional, the imperial, and the global—and to reckon with the contributions sociotechnical systems and non-state institutions made to the power of states.

Bridging international history, political economy, and the history of technology, the papers on this panel explore steam, carbon, and labor infrastructures in the Pacific during the century prior to the Second World War. Governing how people and things moved, new and costly energy and transport systems shaped regional geopolitics and economies. Focusing on the building and operation of these systems, these papers analyze the work of globalization at sea. By recovering the pre-WWII Pacific as a critical site of industrial production that engendered processes central to the current global system and by emphasizing shipping as a site of industrial enterprise, the three papers depart from traditional narratives and invite scholars to consider how contests over marine pathways shaped the modern world. Taken together, they offer an infrastructural history of globalization.

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