One of my talking points when hanging out with my fellow diplomatic historians is the painful absence of scholarship on Hawaii. Too many political histories treat Hawaii’s statehood as a kind of historical inevitability, an event that was bound to pass the moment the kingdom was annexed. As I would frequently pontificate, “nobody has unpacked the imperial history of the islands in sufficient detail, nor the fact that their political fate diverged sharply from a number of other possessions.”
For better and for worse, Sarah Miller-Davenport
has robbed me of this particular talking point by writing a new book on the process of Hawaiian statehood, American imperialism and its relationship to mainland politics and society shortly after statehood. Gateway State: Hawai’i and the Cultural Transformation of American Empire
(Princeton University Press, 2019) takes a close look at some of the narratives that have grown up around the islands and unpacks them. She notes that the process of becoming a state was not a foregone conclusion and was in many ways predicated on Hawaii acting as a gatekeeper to Asia. She also notes that while the island’s racism was less fixed in certain ways than mainland racial norms, racism persisted in more subtle forms on the island. What emerges is a close look at how multiculturalism in service of egalitarianism can nevertheless be adapted to imperial norms.
Zeb Larson is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with a PhD in History. His research deals with the anti-apartheid movement in the United States. To suggest a recent title or to contact him, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.