Friday, March 18, 2011

A Blogging Anniversary

Finally, a secret revealed:
In case you have wondered where this place is - this image that makes up half of the masthead of Pacific Dreams, New York Life - here is the original photograph I took.
It is a view of the Nā Pali Coast of Northwest Kauaʻi in the Hawaiian Islands.

Incredibly, today marks exactly one year since my very first blog post at Pacific Dreams, New York Life. It was called "Hawaiian food, New York groceries" and described my futile attempt to make a meal of lomilomi salmon, poi, and haupia here in NYC - without the right ingredients, and more importantly, without any idea what I was getting myself into!

That meal ended up a disaster, but this blog did not. With this blog I have been able to "meet" and learn from scores of other scholars across this so-called blogosphere. I have received feedback from readers all across Oceania, from Australia, to New Zealand, to American Samoa, to Hawaiʻi, to California and the U.S. West where I've heard from a number of Pacific Islander Americans. The greatest joys of blogging are when I hear from you, dear readers, about how you agree or disagree with what I say. I have learned so much from you. Mahalo nui to you.

As my one-year anniversary post, I want to use this platform today as a shout-out for all the other online presences in Pacific history and/or Environmental history and/or "Other/Grab-bag" that I am influenced by. But before I turn to that, I want to sum up what I have covered so far in one year of blogging at Pacific Dreams, New York Life:

Pacific History, New York Blog

My first post, as I said, was all about food. That's because I missed the taste of poi so much! At that time I was working on writing "Boki's Predicament," an academic article about the history of Hawaiian sandalwood; thus, sandalwood creeped into my blog as well. Off the bat, I also considered reviewing films as an excellent use of this blog. My first film review concerned a film about Tongan history, and in retrospect was poorly thought out. I have written more about Tonga in an entry for a forthcoming Encyclopedia, but for now that one post on Tonga will have to tread water until I can post up something better about that fascinating nation. I also considered reviewing museums on this blog, and I have reviewed at least four Pacific artifact collections to date. Beyond the museums, I am interested in visual representations of Pacific Island peoples, places, and processes, and my "Representations" series is an example of that, focusing on works of art and attempting to see the history behind the canvas. When working on my biography of Boki, I became really interested in material culture, and that goes along with my intense focus on museums and art as well.

Last summer I worked for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and got to thinking about parks, a topic that has been extensively thought about within the field of environmental history. My supervisor Mohammed - although he may not have realized it at the time, as I did not - seriously got me thinking about birds. From viewing the Bronx's birds last summer somehow I've gotten to my new project on Pacific seabirds in the mid-nineteenth-century, as I attempt to weave the stories of these birds into the history of U.S. guano extraction and empire in the Pacific Ocean. I also read a lot of good literature over the summer, giving myself a self-taught education, as best I could, in the field of Pacific Island literature. I have reviewed a number of novels and plays in this forum. If I wasn't working on guano and seabirds, I was going to spend this semester researching Hawaiian labor in the American whaling industry; therefore, I've written a bit about whales here, as well as the experiences of Pacific Islanders in their nineteenth-century laboring diaspora. Some of those laborers made the transition into being Pacific Islander Americans. There are great stories of Pacific Islander migration to be told here, some of which I am beginning to attempt to reveal through my analysis of Hawaiian labor on "guano islands."

I easily get obsessed with all things Hawaiʻi (I have more posts tagged with "Hawaiʻi" than any other keyword), but I have also made a point to focus this blog elsewhere across the Pacific. To that end, I have also written about the Māori of Aotearoa (New Zealand), about Samoa and Samoans, and single posts on the Marquesas Islands, and on Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and, of course, Tonga, too. You can tell I am "Polynesia"-centric in my approach to Pacific history; this I both celebrate and regret for its simultaneous advantages and disadvantages. Although I've wanted to learn more about Pacific environmental history, I've discovered that there is so much important ground to cover in Pacific history by also thinking with nineteenth-century ideas about, and conceptions of, race and gender. As this blog began concurrently with the beginnings of the 2010 U.S. census, I have written a bit about demography, too, and perhaps will write more when the Pacific Islander American data from 2010 is processed and published, hopefully within the next year.

And finally, this blog was supposed to be about combining Pacific pasts with the New York present, and through museums, and through migrations and diasporas, - and even through my own research and learning processes - I hope that I have revealed at least some of the many Pacific-NYC connections that may exist, both historically and/or today. And so I have written a number of posts about New York City, about NYC's waste problem, and about how NYC sometimes appears more like a pineapple than an apple to me. As I prepare for my summer course on Pacific history, HIS 340-J, at Stony Brook University this July-August, I intend to write more about how that class unfolds here in this forum. Finally, I continue taking my Hawaiian language lessons, I have had nothing to say about agriculture since my first post on the subject(!), and, to fit in my last remaining keyword, I am, like all of you, deeply upset by the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan. In the 1950s and 1960s the U.S. government exposed various Pacific Islander nations to extremely high levels of radiation through the "testing" of nuclear weapons all across, above, and beneath the surface of the great Pacific Ocean. Perhaps, in thinking about our global nuclear past, my older post on this subject might hold new relevance.

Pacific Podcasts, New York Blogs (And other cool stuff online!)

Blogs: I began Pacific Dreams, New York Life after waking from a dream sometime last March. I had dreamed that I maintained my own blog. I had never even really thought much about blogging, but at the ASEH conference in Portland, Oregon, I met Anna Zeide, a graduate student in environmental history at U of Wisconsin-Madison, and I soon discovered her delightful blog Madison in June. Now she keeps another blog full of really smart, critical thinking about cooking, eating, and our whole American culture of food; it is called Dining and Opining. Anna is working on her dissertation on the history of canned food; she is really smart, thoughtful, and above all else, always seems to have her two feet on the ground. Thanks for the inspiration, Anna!

At that same meeting I also met Colin Tyner, a PhD candidate at the University of California-Santa Cruz, but who, for the past year at least, has been living and teaching in Japan. His interests are in Japanese environmental history - and he also holds a place in his heart for Pacific history. He maintains a really thoughtful blog at Colin Tyner, the Labour of Nature, and Island Life.

Beth Montgomery, an author in Australia, maintains a blog Island Stories about Pacific Island literature, especially young adult fiction. I must also shout-out to hamogeekgirl, a young Samoan writer living in Aotearoa (NZ) who maintains the blog Samoan Like Me, which follows her process of self-discovery as she looks deeper into what it means for her to be "Samoan." I have really enjoyed many notes sent back and forth with her, and hope that she continues to blog. (And in the meantime, a shout-out to FreshyNZ, also from Aotearoa, who has similarly shared much wisdom with me about Samoan history, language, culture, and society.)

There are many other great blogs out there; I encourage you to check out my "blogroll" and to also share with me any other blogs that you think I would be interested in.

Podcasts: Maybe I'm a geek, but I love listening to podcasts on my computer late at night when I can't sleep! :) Here are some of my favorites:

In environmental history, Jan Oosthoek's Exploring Environmental History has been so influential, not only for me as a young scholar in the field but for many others too. This is where I heard about Colin Tyner's blog for example, for he was interviewed by Mr. Oosthoek on a recent episode of the program. He has also come out with a newer podcast, Histories of Environmental Change. And from NICHE in Canada, there is the podcast Nature's Past, hosted by Sean Kheraj.

In American history more generally, no podcast is more entertaining that BackStory with the American History Guys, Peter Onuf, Ed Ayers, and Brian Balogh. Each month they cover a topic in American history and look at it through the windows of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century perspectives. More locally, for NYC history there is no better than The Bowery Boys: very delightful, humorous, in-depth tours of important people, places, buildings, and events in NYC history. Finally, Nate DiMeo's The Memory Palace uses a more "story-telling" approach to really intriguing anecdotes in (mostly) American history. On my last busride from Albany to NYC I listened to a handful of these podcasts and really enjoyed them!

Finally, on Pacific topics I have found few podcast series that I really enjoy. From Seattle, I have really enjoyed Rochelle DelaCruz's Hawaiʻi Ways, short little vignettes about her experiences as a Hawaiian immigrant living in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately it appears that she has just recently stopped producing episodes, but there are over a hundred old ones to listen to! For Pacific Island news, I have tried following Pacific Beat from Radio Australia, but I just don't have the time in the day to follow that much content on a daily basis. So if anyone knows of more weekly or even monthly approaches to important Pacific Island news and events, please let me know!

Video: Finally, my Hawaiian language teacher was kind enough to point out to me that Native Hawaiians in Hawaiʻi have recently begun their own online television station. It is called ʻŌiwi TV, and it is really amazing! Ever since the 1970s Hawaiian Renaissance, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has been making its pronounced comeback as a viable language for use by the Hawaiian nation. But knowing the power of television media for influencing language use, especially among young kids, how can lāhui Hawaiʻi really bring their ancestral language back to prominence against this great tide of English language media out there? ʻŌiwi TV seems to be a very viable solution. There is a news program in both English and Hawaiian called ʻĀhaʻi ʻŌlelo Ola. And beyond that, there is access to Hawaiian-language children's programming, including cartoons! There are also many short films to watch. I have only just begun to explore this site, but it seems to hold so much promise.

I guess that is all this one anniversary post can hold. Blogging has helped me learn so much from so many people about so many different things - and this sharing is really so different than what takes place in academia. It is a different type of sharing...perhaps just as valuable, if not more so, than the official "discourses" going on within academic journals and conferences.

Much love! and Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Summer Course on Pacific History

This summer I will teaching my own undergraduate course for the first time at SUNY Stony Brook. Yay! This course will take place during the second summer session, from early July to mid August 2011. These sessions are only six weeks long, with classes meeting twice a week for three and a half hours each session. That might appear to be a very long session! But with a mix of lecture, class discussion, group work, and audio-visual surprises - including many excellent films - I imagine our time in class will just fly by.

I humbly note that my course, HIS 340-J: Pacific Islands: Histories of Paradise, will attempt to achieve the seemingly impossible:

To cover 6,000 years of the history of 1/3 of the entire Earth in just six weeks!

But that's Pacific history for you. Of course we will have to cut corners in just about every corner. I am, by default of my own research interests and knowledge base, going to focus overwhelmingly on Polynesia and the Eastern Pacific, most specifically on Hawaiʻi. But there will also be significant lessons and/or readings concerning Tahiti, the Marquesas, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Samoa, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Kiribati, Fiji, and New Guinea, if not more.

To get a sense of the major historical topics and themes that the course will attempt to tie together, please see the course description by clicking on the course title (link) above.

Choosing a textbook for this class has been a very hard task. For a course like this, with its sweeping scope over all Pacific time and space, few books that I have read in Pacific history seemed suitable for use in any more than just a handful of lessons. And the books I originally turned to as potential unifying agents for bringing the many threads of the course together - books like Greg Dening's Islands and Beaches, for example - are all out of print. But if you really want a copy of Dening's classic book for your own library, here is a link to where you can buy a bargain-bin copy for as mildly inexpensive as $279.24!

So this is what I've decided to work with instead:

Alastair Couper's very recent Sailors and Traders: A Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples (2009), and John Kneubuhl's collection of plays, Think of a Garden, and other Plays (1997).

Couper's book will provide the most generalist of overviews for each week and each session, covering all space and time from the earliest Pacific Island colonizations to the lives of present-day Oceanian "voyagers" on transoceanic cargo ships, from New Guinea east all the way to Rapa Nui. Couper has a particular interest in Micronesia, and especially Kiribati, which I think will serve as a fitting compliment to my own lectures which will probably inevitably focus too much on Polynesia and Hawaiʻi. So we will get two different perspectives between us.

Kneubuhl's plays will jump in during the last two weeks of session. "Think of a Garden" concerns the mau independence movement in Western Samoa in the 1920s and 30s, while "Mele Kanikau: A Pageant" engages with the debates over tourism, and conflicting ideas of indigeneity and authenticity in 1970s Hawaiʻi at the outset of the Hawaiian Renaissance. We won't read the third play in the collection, which is too esoteric for the purposes of this class. Overall, Kneubuhl will help us enter the twentieth-century world of Pacific Islanders through very readable and enjoyable dramatic prose.

As for films, I am still sorting out the list and figuring out what will fit within the course's limits, but I do know that these four films will anchor our discussions of cinematic representations of the Pacific:

Hawaii (1966)

That's probably enough of a tease to get some readers' minds spinning. Course registration for summer session begins on April 6, 2011. New York State residents can take SUNY courses at very reasonable rates (at least compared to the rate for out-of-state students!), so if you are in need of credits towards your bachelor's degree, or if you specifically need that elusive "J" to satisfy your DEC requirements, consider registering for my course! It will be fun!