Friday, July 26, 2013

California Research Adventure: Days 21-25

Day 21: Back to work

Another week of research at the Huntington Library. During my lunchtime on Day 21, I visited the campus' extensive desert gardens.

Strange, beautiful plants in the Desert Garden, Huntington Library

A view of the desert garden, from a rare shady spot

Strange, beautiful plant in the desert garden, Huntington Library

 My favorite desert plant, this cactus. Just look at them cacti!

I quite enjoyed the desert garden, for of all the gardens at the Huntington it is the only one seemingly "fit" for this environment: the dry, desert landscape of Southern California. It is somewhat sad to walk the paths of this campus day in and day out and see how much water is being used to irrigate all the plants and trees that otherwise would dry up and die. Until Day 25 I never felt a single raindrop here. Yet to keep these plants alive the Huntington dumps gallons and gallons of water on these plants. So that's why I enjoyed the desert garden, because it doesn't really need irrigation. And yet, to my surprise, I saw that there were sprinklers here, too, sprinkling the cacti! Shaking my head...

Day 22: Still at work

I thought I would give you all a view of the library building itself:

The Huntington Library, with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background

On my lunchtime walk on Day 22 I decided to visit the the campus' lily ponds, which are surrounded by bamboo and by a little bit of pine forest, too, which I quite enjoyed as it reminded me a bit of my home in upstate New York.
Some kind of coniferous treesI said "pine," but I don't really know—at the Huntington Library

Some fish in the lily ponds

The lily ponds, Huntington Library

Day 22 was nice because it was a Tuesday, and on Tuesdays the Huntington grounds are closed to the public, which means that "readers" like myself have the whole campus to ourselves. I was able to find some peace and quiet, not that I needed it, though! I mean, sitting in the archives all day is irritatingly quiet. And yet at the same time, there is little that is "peaceful" about archival research; it's rather stressful, I should say. So getting outdoors for an hour each day among the plants is a good thing.

Here are a few more interesting things I saw on my walk on Day 22:

A tree with heavy limbs

Statue in a garden

Day 23: Hump-day

Wednesdays are "hump"-days because they mark the midpoint of the week. The feeling is: if I can just get through hump-day, then I'll be able to make it through Friday. For my hump-day walk, I decided to visit the Australian gardens.... Kind of like the desert gardens, but more specifically Australian than Californian.

The Australian "outback " (yeah, just "out back" of the Huntington mansion!)

A very interesting Australian tree

Of course the most famous Australian tree in California is the Eucalyptus tree. But for that, you (and I) will have to read Professor Jared Farmer's soon-to-be-published book, Trees in Paradise, which I predict will be a very good read.

Day 24: Still at it

These are quiet days here. Lonely, too. After "work" each day I generally walk back to my hotel, drink an iced tea, do a few hours of editing my dissertation, then go out and buy pizza, or tacos, or some Asian stir-fry, then sit in bed in my hotel room watching the news or documentaries while eating dinner. I don't generally talk to people at the Huntington, and I certainly don't talk to people at the hotel. My lonely, quiet life. It is bearable, but not preferable.

I have no photographs from Day 24, because instead of going for a walk during lunch I decided to attend a conversation with the authors of a new book on surfing. I figured, since I study Hawaiian history, that this might be an interesting lecture to attend. It was interesting, although a few things the authors said rubbed me the wrong way. They were very knowledgeable, and their book looks very interesting. It seems to be more of a focus on California surfing than Hawaiian, and more on the 20th century than earlier. There's nothing wrong with that. However, when one of the authors said multiple times that the reason surfing declined/disappeared in late nineteenth-century Hawaiʻi was because the Hawaiians "died out," I had to bite my tongue. I know that many of my Hawaiian history friends would have also found this offensive, as I did.

It raises an interesting historiographical point about Hawaiʻi, though, and about indigenous peoples' histories in general. It used to be believed that indigenous peoples—for example, Native Americans or Hawaiians—just "disappeared," "vanished," or went "extinct." It was lamentable, Euro-Americans wrote, but inevitable. Different reasons were put forward as to why these peoples had disappeared: their bodies were naturally weak and susceptible to disease, something about their "race" being weaker than the "white race," etc., etc. There was a lot of discussion about nature versus nuture, but an overriding consensus prevailed that native peoples were just prone to extinction. Few at the time talked about colonialism—that dirty "C"-word—and what effect it might have had on indigenous peoples' lives (and deaths). Why bother to interrogate our own colonial practices, Euro-Americans thought, if these people were just going to vanish anyway. This was the view throughout much of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century.

Then, in the late 1960s and 1970s, from the American Indian Movement (AIM) on the mainland to the Hawaiian Renaissance in Hawaiʻi, native peoples rose up and said, "hey, we're still here!" And because of that, historians then had to contend with the fact that these peoples did not disappear or go silently into that night as previously thought. (It is hard to believe that educated people actually thought that Hawaiians were extinct—I mean, Hawaiian-language newspapers stayed in print into the 1940s, leaving only a thirty-year gap until the Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970s brought Hawaiian language back!—but some were so set in their ways that they refused to consider other alternative historical narratives.) Out of this era came revisionist historical interpretations. Some younger historians started to write histories of survival, rather than extinction—histories of cultural change and adaptation and resistance, showing that native peoples did not just disappear. On the other hand, some historians started to say: look, maybe decline and depopulation weren't inevitable, but were specifically the consequence of foreign imperialism and colonial practices. And some historians, in both the mainland U.S. and in Hawaiʻi, also went back to archeological and pre-contact data to determine that there were actually a lot more indigenous peoples to begin with than previously recognized.

All this is to say that since the 1970s there have been many new threads in indigenous historiography. But two particularly prominent threads seem to come into conflict: one plays up the "victim" narrative and accuses imperialism and colonialism for decimating native populations; the other plays up the "resistance" or native "agency" narrative and asserts that indigenous peoples were never fully colonized.

Well... this is all what was going on in my head during and after the very informative talk on surfing! Because it was clear that these authors subscribed to the former narrative of "victimhood," and by doing so, they seemed to justify that their book should focus more on California and less on Hawaiʻi. All I know is that I tend to go more with the latter narrative—the one emphasizing resistance and native agency—and so my preferred narrative on the history of surfing would focus more on the continuing role of Hawaiians in surfing... showing that the indigeneity of the sport was not lost as surfing culture expanded in the 20th and 21st centuries.

But, I should point out, there is no right or wrong interpretation here! (And there are many books about surfing to choose from.) History is all about choices. And each historian presents a different thesis based on his or her own interests and political biases. We should just be congnizant, I think, that our choices in terms of subject matter, characters, narrative, etc., accurately define our positions on the various issues. However one chooses to write about Hawaiʻi, for example, defines his or her position on the relative importance of Hawaiian people in that history. This is a very big, and very important, issue, and historians must recognize the important role that we play in shaping the way that others will think about it. And, I contend, whether or not most Americans believe that Hawaiians still exist as a people is very important and we should do our best to do right by all the available evidence.

Anyway... :)

Day 25: American Art at the Huntington

Finally, rain. First rainy day in California. So I used my lunch hour today to explore the Huntington's American Art wing.

As always, I am interested in finding the trans-Pacific stories here, and I was able to find some.

Eighteenth-century flower box, owned by an American, made in England

Moving through the galleries chronologically, the first room had some of the oldest objects, mostly from the eighteenth century. Of course, many colonials had a taste for Chinese goods in the eighteenth century. Increasing numbers of Euro-Americans drank tea, right? And where do you think all that tea came from? The object pictured above is made in the Chinese blue-and-white style, but it was actually made in England and enjoyed by some colonial in British America.

The Huntington also has a china set (see below) that once belonged to none other than our own General/President/Superhero George Washington.

George Washington's "china" set, 1780s

The cup of George Washington!

The incredible thing about Washington's "china"—and by "china" I mean porcelain—is that it was, well, made in China! Made in Qing China in the 1790s, note how these objects feature the all-American symbology of eagles and the seal of the Society of the Cincinnati. The other awesome thing about this china set is that it came to the United States on the Empress of China, the first U.S.-China trading ship in our nation's history. (There had been many earlier ships that connected British American colonial ports with the Chinese port city of Guangzhou [Canton], but the Empress was the first to fly under American colors after the Revolutionary War.) I think that these porcelain objects would be great teaching tools for the classroom, especially in a class looking at the history of U.S.-China relations, or even a class simply looking at the role that the Asia-Pacific region has played in American history.

Finally, a big Hudson River School fan like myself cannot help but post some photographs of Frederic Church's Chimborazo, one of the highlights of the Huntington's art collections. Also, I include a photograph of Mary Cassatt's masterpiece, Breakfast in bed. These works comprise perhaps the most famous works in the American collection.

 Frederic Church's Chimborazo (1864), a nineteenth-century American masterpiece

A close-up showing Church's masterful depiction of Ecuadorian flora.

Mary Cassatt's Breakfast in Bed (1897)

And that about wraps it up for Week 2 of my fellowship, as well as Day 25 of my adventure. Today also marks the midpoint of my fellowship. I have completed ten days of research so far, and I have ten days more to go. It might be useful to summarize here some of my findings so far in my archival research, but how would I even start? My notes are a mess. I know that later this fall I will have to go back and re-read them and then finally try to make sense of them all and figure out how they fit into my dissertation. There are, believe it or not, relatively few "a-ha" moments in the archives, when a piece of data grabs one's attention and alerts him or her in the clearest possible way that his or her whole thinking has (or should) change on that subject. I have had no such "a-ha" moments since arriving here. But I am confident that all the little, less exciting moments will add up in the end to make something more interesting. The whole, as they say, will be greater than the parts.

Next post: on my weekend adventure to Ventura County and the Channel Islands (tomorrow), and then maybe a possible hike or something else (on Sunday)... Stay tuned!

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