Rice and Power in the Pacific World

AHA Session 248
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Murray Hill East (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Zach Sell, Brown University
The Audience

Session Abstract

From sugar to cod to maize, historians of empire have recently turned to food as a lens on global imperial encounters. These new histories identify the production, distribution, and consumption of foodstuffs as fields of power relations between classes, genders, and ethnic groups. In that vein, this panel features transregional histories of rice in and around the Pacific Ocean during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These papers attend to spaces and people on the imperial periphery that were nonetheless central to imperial commodity networks, labor regimes, race and gender relations, agricultural technologies, and cultures of consumption. They draw on U.S., Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Micronesian archives to explore the manifold ways in which rice shaped imperial formations in the Pacific world, and at the same time exposed cracks and fissures in the structures of empires.

Frank examines how rice supply networks influenced Chinese education of indigenous and settler children at boarding schools in eastern Tibet during World War II. He shows that World War II and the Chinese Civil War exerted tremendous influence on the food security of teachers and students in the Sino-Tibetan borderland city of Kangding during the 1940s. Ahn studies the experiences and representations of the agrarian women in the rice fields within Manchukuo during WWII. Examining contemporary newspaper reports as well as oral history materials concerning the topic, she highlights the fragilities and intersectionalities of the fixed boundaries of race, gender, and class in modern empires. White examines the influence of imported Japanese rice seeds and the migration of Japanese rice farmers on the development of the Gulf Coast rice industry and the expansion of U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean at the turn of the twentieth century. Levy focuses on the interwar period in the Japanese South Seas, and explores the introduction of new plant and human genetic material there, its intersection with race and settler colonialism, and its legacy in postwar American territories ostensibly cleansed of Japan’s colonial influence. Together, these papers reveal the interpretive possibilities of a single grain as it figures in relations of empire.

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