What American Atlanticists Need to Know about the Pacific

AHA Session 165
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Riverside Suite (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
David C. Atkinson, Purdue University
Maile Arvin, University of Utah
David C. Atkinson, Purdue University
William Cowan, University of Southern California
Madison Heslop, University of Washington

Session Abstract

This roundtable features a mix of rising and established scholars and is centered on the young and growing field of Pacific World history. It is anchored in the question: “What do American Atlanticists need to know about the Pacific?” We will not have a discussant. Rather, our question will serve that role instead. The roundtable will begin with each member of the panel presenting their own research for 5 minutes.

Our discussion begins with William Cowan’s presentation, which examines the Pacific Slope Superstorms of 1861-1862. Culminating in one of the seven wettest seasons in the last two thousand years, these storms challenged communities from British Columbia to Baja California and as far inland as what is currently Idaho, Utah, and Arizona. Cowan reconstructs the social history of the storms and their impact and aftermath to show how those suffering the brunt of the devastation of the winter of 1861-1861 turned to family, friends, neighbors, and strangers—institutions both formal and informal, often across social lines—for emergency rescue and aid. Our second speaker is Maile Arvin. Her presentation draws from her forthcoming book Possessing Polynesians, which examines the historic construction of the Polynesian race as an “almost white” race by European and American social scientists from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By describing Polynesians, including Native Hawaiians, as almost white, white social scientists attempted to make Hawaiʻi into a settler colonial project and extension of the United States. David Atkinson’s paper focuses on the efforts of white settler societies to staunch and restrict networks of mobility. Instead of illuminating how global “nodes” and “hubs” facilitated transnational mobility, Atkinson’s research examines how white settlers established nodes of immobility to impede the movement of nonwhite migrants across newly-regulated borders. Ultimately, Atkinson emphasizes the ways in which immobility, disconnection, and disjuncture remained salient in the context of transnational, imperial, and international formations that were predicated upon mobility and exchange. From there, Madison Heslop will present her work, which examines the connected histories of Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia. Heslop shows that these cities’ connections to the various “Pacific Worlds” of the people who traversed the maritime networks of ocean and seas shaped Seattle and Vancouver as much as their respective nations. Our panel concludes with a presentation by Curtis Foxley on American nuclear weapons testing in the American West and in the Pacific. By comparing the explosions in the Pacific with those in the West, Foxley shows how the United States knitted the regions together by way of their shared atomic burdens.

We will circulate our presentations to each other in advance of the meeting. It is our hope that our short presentations will make more room for audience participation in the roundtable. Although the presentations will range topically, each will address our unifying question and illuminate the trends and tendencies of Pacific World history and historiography. We hope that our discussion will raise new questions for the growing Pacific World history field.

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