Monday, July 2, 2012

New York, Peru, California

I got married on June 23. This explains why I have not posted in over a month. Yet June was quietly exciting not only for our wedding - a day that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life - but also because I quietly began conducting archival research for my dissertation.

Believe it or not, while I have been working for nearly three years now on this project on Hawaiian history, it is only now that I am beginning to do research in the archives. Previously, I read lots of published primary documents, often the published journals and narratives of American missionaries or American ship captains who, in their circuitous lives, spent at least some time in Hawaiʻi and wrote about the place and its people.

Starting one and a half years ago, when I began learning to read and translate Hawaiian, I turned to my good friend, the website, to access digitized Hawaiian-language newspaper articles. While the amount of Hawaiian-language newspapers that are digitized is still only about 1% of what exists in the archives, this has been more than enough to occupy a slow Hawaiian reader like me for over a year. And this would continue to provide me with hard work for years, and so it will, but to achieve the Ph.D. degree, I must also conduct archival research.

And so, someday soon, I will be visiting Honolulu to read actual newspapers, as well as read Hawaiian Kingdom government documents, and all sorts of other amazing resources, in order to really understand this history that I am trying to write.

But this summer, with our wedding and all, I cannot afford to travel to Hawaiʻi to conduct research, but this doesn't mean that I will be sitting on my hands all summer. In fact, in one week I will be leaving New York and I will not return until mid-August.

New York

The New York Public Library at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue in New York City

As mentioned above, I have actually begun conducting archival research right here in NYC. In early June I began visiting the New York Public Library to access some dusty manuscript collections there that actually contain information about nineteenth-century Hawaiʻi! To be true, the NYPL does not have very many manuscript collections related to Hawaiʻi, but there turned out to be enough there to warrant four days of research, spread out over the first three weeks of June. Every morning I would arrive at 10am when the library opened, with my laptop computer in hand, and I would proceed to the third floor and to the Special Collections room. Once there, I would begin looking at a source, or continue looking at one that I had yet to finish from a previous visit.

One source I was interested in viewing was, for the most part, preserved on microfilm, and because of this I was prohibited from accessing the original copies. So, I had to take the microfilm down to the first floor to the microfilm reading room and sit there for hours staring at that dimly-lit microfilm-reading screen. This process inevitably hurt my eyes, and after a few hours I would have to call it quits, return the microfilm to Special Collections, go outside, grab some pizza or a coffee or something, and then quietly make my way back to my apartment.

More often than not, I was actually allowed to view the original documents. I held logbooks from American ships that had traveled across the Pacific Ocean in the early nineteenth century. The pages were heavily worn and cracked easily when touched (although I did my best not to add new cracks!). The handwriting in these logbooks was invariably messy. But you have to imagine sitting on a rolling ship day after day, exposed to sun, rain, wind, and all the elements, and trying to write down the most boring details in this log each day: latitude, longitude, temperature, wind and wave patterns, etc. The only thing more boring than keeping these logbooks is perhaps the historian's task of having to read them!! Of course I want to find some mention of Hawaiian people in these books, but that only happens once every 1,000 pages (according to my rough, unscientific, completely subjective calculation...).

It turns out, that in four days of archival research at the NYPL, my best success was with that darn microfilm reel. On the reel was an early nineteenth century journal kept by an American sea captain. But instead of just jotting down latitudes and longitudes, he was also responsible for managing trade relations between his ship and the island peoples he encountered. So each and every time his ship visited the "Sandwich Islands" (Hawaiʻi) - and this occurred nearly every time his ship traveled between the Americas and East Asia - he recorded the exact nature of relations on ship and on shore between his people and the people of Hawaiʻi. He also was not very shy about sharing his opinions on the Hawaiians, whether he thought them beautiful or ugly, smart or dumb, hard-working or lazy. These opinions are actually very important to my study, as I attempt to chart a history of how Euro-American employers (or potential employers) viewed Native Hawaiian labor over the course of the nineteenth century. And the "nuts and bolts" of these encounters are important, too, for exchanges in commodities and biological resources - such as Hawaiian sandalwood, the subject of an article I published in 2011 - are noted with surprising exactness in his records.

I have not yet exhausted the NYPL's collections related to Hawaiʻi, but I did do enough research for one month in my opinion. And so last weekend I traveled upstate to my parents' home in Schenectady to access just one more New York State collection before heading abroad for the summer...

I visited the New York State Historical Association's research library in Cooperstown, New York. Driving out there from Schenectady - an 80 minute drive down relatively empty turnpikes through abundant forests and rolling farmland - one cannot possibly imagine that there will be historical materials relevant to Hawaiian history awaiting down this road. I arrived in Cooperstown hot and thirsty - it was over 90° F that day - so I parked on the Main Street and got a pizza and a soda. (For some reason, it seems the only time I ever eat pizza and drink soda is when I am visiting archives. Otherwise I try to eat much healthier. I think perhaps there is a part of me that dreads archives so much that something in my brain compels me to indulge in fats and sweets to compensate for that fear.)

At the library, I spent about two hours in a lightly air-conditioned space - in other words, I was sweating the whole time. And while I found little that I will be able to use in my dissertation - I was examining the personal papers and correspondence of a husband and wife who were Christian missionaries in Hawaiʻi in the 1820s - just looking through these materials - letters describing Lahaina, Maui, to a friend in New York City; typeset bilingual drafts of biblical passages and government proclamations - I was amazed to think that these incredible documents were housed right here in rural upstate New York. I didn't discover anything new or surprising, but it was well worth the visit just to see what was there.


View of Cusco, Peru (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In one week, we leave for Peru on a slightly-delayed honeymoon. This will be my first time ever in the southern hemisphere - my first time anywhere south of the equator!

In fact, this will be my first time south of 20° N latitude - which is kind of crazy, right? In fact, discounting latitudes I have visited when 30,000 feet in the air (in an airplane), I have never been anywhere in the world outside of the bounds of 20° N and 47° N. I find this funny because, as a historian of Hawaiian labor - including maritime labor - I am constantly reading about people who sailed in boats between Hawaiʻi, Alaska, New England, Cape Horn, China, and all over the Pacific (and sometimes Atlantic). Countless American ships made the passage from New England to Cape Horn and up to Hawaiʻi or California and back in the nineteenth century. If you were on one of those ships, you would automatically have experienced all worldly latitudes between about 45° N and 55° S, and crossed the equator at least twice if not four times in a round-trip! So what kind of researcher am I having lived my whole life within just 25 degrees of latitude in the Northern hemisphere?!

Yup, apparently the farthest north I have ever been was when I visited a friend in Montana in 2008 at a latitude of about 46.8° N. And while I lived in the state of Maine for three years during college, I never got above 45° N while I was there. And while I used to visit Montreal, Canada, almost every year as a child, that was only around 45.5° N. And in my travels out West I once - in 2004 - scaled a portion of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State, but that only got me to around 46.2° N. Now, to be true, I did once pass through Seattle on a Greyhound bus, which should break my record at over 47° N, but since I did not step outside of the bus station, I don't count it.

Missoula, Montana, in January 2008. My most northern experience to date.

Readers who recall that I lived in China for four months in 2004 might wonder if I did not break any latitude records while there. In fact, I did travel as far north as Shenyang, Liaoning Province, in Dongbei (what Americans call "Manchuria"), which, in November when I was there, was pretty darn cold. It snowed, and temperatures dropped below freezing. But, in fact, I was not even above 42° N there.

Now, what about my southern boundary? Well, in China in 2004 I lived most of the time in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan Province, the PRC's most southwestern region. Kunming lies at around 25° N. (That is roughly equal to the latitude of Miami, Florida, the continental United States' most southern city.) In my travels through Yunnan, I never went farther south than Tonghai, south of Kunming. I likely never crossed the Tropic of Cancer around 23° N. I stopped at the Hong Kong airport on my way in, at 22° N, but that doesn't count since I never left the airport.

In the United States I have gone further south. In Honolulu I have studied Hawaiian history at the lovely latitude of 21.3° N. But, because we have only visited Oʻahu and Kauaʻi, and not the windward isles, 21.3° N is as far south as I have gone there.

I have visited Mexico twice: once in the late 1990s, and again in 2006. On the latter trip, my brother and I visited the northern city of Monterrey at latitude 25.6° N. So, no broken record there! But on the earlier trip we visited Cancun, Mexico. At 21.1° N, this - it turns out - is the farthest south I have ever been!

Now, the whole point of this exercise in latitude-evaluation is to establish the legitimacy of my excitement when thinking about my upcoming trip to Peru! We will experience the Peruvian winter, while back in New York we can barely stand the heat of the now-summer. Up in the Andes, we will need to wear winter coats at night just to stay warm - something unthinkable in NYC in July! Otherwise, I don't think I will be thinking much about latitude while there. We will be visiting museums and historic sites, including ancient Incan sites like Machu Picchu. My wife and I are both historians, so we will both cherish the opportunity to learn not only about the pre-Columbian history of the Andes, but also the Spanish colonial history that will be evident in historic city centers like in Lima and Arequipa. And we also hope to learn a bit about the post-Revolutionary history of Peru, from the early nineteenth century to the present. My own fascination with the history of guano makes me particularly excited to visit the Paracas Peninsula on the coast where we may view the seabirds that in the nineteenth century made Peruvian guano one of the most influential commodities in the global economy, and indirectly led to the growth of U.S. empire in the Pacific and the exploitation of Hawaiian labor to produce guano for the U.S. market (as will be detailed in a forthcoming publication of mine later this year!).

But, in crucial ways, we will just simply be tourists. We both speak only bits and pieces of Spanish, and absolutely no Quechua. This trip has been a nice inspiration for me to attempt to learn Spanish, but along with my Chinese and Hawaiian language studies, I have not made as much progress in Spanish as I had hoped to. I think we both hope that our time in Peru will inspire our continued interest in Latin American history, and may, perhaps, even result in breathing some Andean air into our own academic projects. The Hawaiian-South American connection in the nineteenth century is definitely there and worthy of study, but I am not really sure what, if anything, I will say about this in my actual dissertation.


San Francisco harbor scene, 2008

When we return from Peru, I am off almost immediately to California for two weeks of research as well as attending the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association's annual conference in San Diego. I will be spending my first week in Berkeley, exploring the Bancroft Library's holdings related to Hawaiian and Californian history. Then, over the weekend, I plan to rent a car and head into the Sierra foothills to explore the nineteenth-century Gold Country, hiking and camping at or near some sites where Hawaiian migrants 150 years ago settled in an attempt to make a living here during the California Gold Rush. For my second week I will head down to Los Angeles to conduct research at the Huntington Library for about three days, then mosey down to San Diego for the PCB-AHA conference. At the conference I will be presenting on my research on Hawaiians in nineteenth-century California as part of a panel on Hawaiian environmental history. Should be great!

One thing I hope to do in both Peru and California is take lots of photographs. In Peru I will not be going online very often, but in our downtime I may want to upload a photo or two and write a short note about our adventures and explorations. Perhaps I will use this blog as a vehicle for sharing my thoughts about Peru, its history, and its environment.

But definitely in California I intend to "blog" about my adventure through the archives and landscape of Hawaiian-Californian history. Indeed, when I began this blog over two years ago I imagined it as a place to record the unfolding of my research as I traveled across the Pacific and discovered so many hidden secrets of Hawaiian history - like some sort of Indiana Jones-type adventure. My research, thus far, has not lived up to those expectations!! But...who knows what this summer will bring? So, if I don't post again in July, it means I am enjoying Peru too much to write about it. But I will definitely begin posting in early August once I arrive in Berkeley to give updates on my research adventure as it unfolds.

Got any travel or research tips? Please share them in the comments section if you prefer. Until then, gracias and mahalo for reading.