Published Date

January 1, 2014

Resource Type

AHA Resource, For the Classroom


Asian American and Pacific Islander, Indigenous, Religion

AHA Topics

Teaching & Learning, Undergraduate Education


Asia, Latin America/Caribbean, Oceania, United States

This resource was developed as part of the AHA’s Globalizing the US History Survey project


By Allison Frickert-Murashige


Pacific Seminar Overview

Faculty and seminar instructors examine documents held at the Huntington related to the Pacific World.

Faculty and seminar instructors examine documents held at the Huntington related to the Pacific World.

In 2012, the AHA launched a three-year NEH Bridging Cultures project, “American History, Atlantic and Pacific,” focused on globalizing the US history survey course.

The first oceanic seminar, focused on the Pacific Rim from 1600-1850, was held for a week in the Huntington Library in Pasadena. Two-member faculty teams from 12 community college campuses across the nation engaged the new and fast-developing historiography of the largest region of the world, and the implications of this scholarship for the US history survey in particular and humanities education in general.

In the words of one of our leaders, Tom Osborne, “An unheralded yet profound Pacific shift seems underway in US and international history.” Indeed, the conception of the Atlantic World and its impact on both global and American history is now an established 30-year trope, based on the realization that the world’s oceans are not barriers, but “highways of exchange and connectors of polities.” Only much more recently, the Pacific Basin has emerged as a similarly invigorating scholarly field, revealing the links of the US to the global interactions of people, plants, trade, microbes, animals, governments and cultures, within the Pacific World.

Seminar leader Bill Deverell challenged the participants to think deeply on the following questions:

  • How did intercultural contact shape the creation of the United States and the composition of its inhabitants?
  • How did exchange of people, goods, germs, and ideas across the vast Pacific Ocean function as bridge between American, Oceanic, and Asian cultures?
  • Does understanding this more distant history of the Pacific Rim help us to comprehend aspects of more recent globalization and its consequences for American culture and US-Asia relations?

While at the Huntington, we engaged in seminars and discussions. We also had special access to the Library’s wonderful rare maps collection, and we enjoyed independent research time in the Huntington’s vast archives, highlighting a critical aspect of the NEH Bridging Cultures initiatives for community colleges: the connection between research and pedagogy.

For a full review of the seminar and discussions at the Huntington, see Nike Nivar and Robert B. Townsend’s article in Perspectives on History: “Pacific Worlds and the US History Survey: The AHA’s Bridging Cultures Project at the Huntington Library.”

The following reading recommendations are drawn from the readings and presentations in this seminar and are intended to introduce teachers of US history to major scholarship in Pacific studies. The Huntington Library also has many excellent collections related to Pacific history. Below is a bibliography of holdings for those able to make use of this resource.


Recommended Readings

Seth Archer on Hawaii

Seth Archer focused on the central role Hawaii played as a transit point in Pacific history, and the problematic way it is generally omitted from the US history survey or not included until the 1890s, despite its much earlier role in shaping American history.

  • “Remedial Agents: Missionary Physicians and the Depopulation of Hawai’i,” Pacific Historical Review 79, no. 4 (Nov. 2010)
  • “Sharks Upon the Land: Epidemics and Culture in Hawai’i, 1778–1865” (PhD diss, University of California, Riverside, 2015)

David Igler on California and the Pacific

Igler’s work The Great Ocean reveals the increasing links between the West coast of North America and the emergence of a contested and globalized eastern Pacific during the period beginning with Captain Cook’s Pacific voyages of the 1760s to the California gold rush in the mid-19th century.

  • The Great Ocean, “Alta California, the Pacific, and International Commerce before the Gold Rush.” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Ryan T. Jones on the Russian Pacific

Complementing the approach to overlapping zones, Ryan Jones, now at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and recent author of Empire of Extinction, highlighted “the environmental and social aspects of Russia’s exploration and interactions with others and discussed the Russians’ colonial expansion model [within] the fur trade, as well as their dependence on the native Aleuts.” (Townsend/Nivar, Perspectives on History).

Edward Melillo on the Pacific Environment the Guano Trade from Latin America

  • Strangers on Familiar Soil: Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection. Yale, 2015.

Tom Osborne on California and the Pacific

"Francis Samuel Marryat, San Francisco, lithograph" by Frick Art Reference Library Photoarchive - Own work.

“Francis Samuel Marryat, San Francisco, lithograph” by Frick Art Reference Library Photoarchive – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

Tom Osborne of Santa Ana College, and the author of the sole textbook on California that includes full Pacific World contextualization (Pacific Eldorado: A History of Greater California), talked about how a more global perspect can help a diverse student body connect to the material. He also argued that inclusion of the Pacific doesn’t minimize the importance of the Atlantic world context. Instead, he urges historians to strike a more accurate balance between the two ocean frontiers and offered us many examples from the Manila galleon trade, to the growth of the transcontinental railroad, to the Spanish-American-Cuban-Filipino War, to 1960s liberalism and more to demonstrate to students that “the Pacific has mattered a lot throughout US history.”

Kariann Yokota on Trade in the Pacific

Through the study of visual and material culture, Kariann Yokota examines Pacific relationships built around trade, particularly with the Chinese.

  • Pacific Overtures: Early America and the Transpacific World, 1760–1853. (In Progress)

Recommended Texts and Websites on the Pacific World (A Starting Point)

  • Matt Matsuda (Pacific Worlds: A History of Seas, Peoples, and Cultures) argues that the sheer diversity of the Pacific lends itself to conceptualizing multiple, overlapping Pacific Worlds, and that each maritime zone, contains its own separate past yet also reveals the intricate history of the world’s largest ocean basin.
  • Pacific Histories: Ocean, Land, People. eds. David Armitage and Alison Bashford
  • Thomas, Nicholas. Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire
  • Gulliver, Katrina. “Finding the Pacific World.”
  • Chappel, David A. Double Ghosts: Oceanian Voyages on Euroamerican Ships.
  • Sinn, Elizabeth. Pacific Crossing: California Gold, Chinese Migration, and the Making of Hong Kong.
  • Cushman, Gregory T. Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History.
  • National Museum of American History, “Guano Trade.” Albert H. Small Documents Gallery Special Online Exhibit.
  • Blog Series on the Pacific