Tag Archives: U.S. Empire

Member of the Week: Topher Kindell

image1Topher Kindell

Doctoral Candidate

The University of Chicago

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

Broadly speaking, my research lies at the intersection of urbanization, commercial trade, race, and public health in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. My dissertation examines how medical professionals, legislators, indigenous Hawaiians, and East Asian migrants transformed Honolulu from a passive, mid-Pacific seaport into a vital, disease-screening checkpoint for the Hawaiian Islands, the Pacific Basin, and America’s overseas empire. The proliferation of steamship traffic during the second half of the nineteenth century accelerated the rate of transpacific trade and migration, thus amplifying the urban prevalence, interisland diffusion, and international circulation of infectious diseases. As a result, health officials in Hawai‘i came to view Honolulu’s position at the crossroads of the Pacific as both a blessing and a burden—a contradiction, they asserted, that needed to be controlled at all costs. Alongside its role as a lucrative waystation, agricultural entrepôt, and budding tourist destination, I contend that Honolulu assumed a unique and often self-proclaimed responsibility as a “sanitary sieve”—an urban clearinghouse that could filter out infectious diseases traversing the Pacific. Indeed, by the turn of the century, safeguarding the Hawaiian Islands, the Pacific Basin, and the U.S. Empire from disease had emerged as Honolulu’s chief public health responsibility.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I recently finished a year-long preceptorship mentoring undergraduate BA thesis students through the research and writing process. Topics ranged from urban redevelopment in Paraguay and labor recruitment in Hawaii to education reform in India and foreign policy conflicts in Palestine and Israel. In the fall of 2018, I will be teaching a course of my own design—“Pacific Worlds: Race, Indigeneity, and Migration”—which will examine how race, racism, and racial ideologies were integral to the formation of three long-nineteenth-century Pacific Worlds. By focusing primarily on the northeastern Pacific, Oceania, and a selection of islands scattered in between, the course will investigate how divergent, convergent, and evolving notions of race shaped the histories of Pacific exploration and settler colonialism; indigenous sovereignty and the law; gender and sexuality; disease, depopulation, and public health; transpacific commerce and labor migration; war, imperialism, and national belonging.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

As I’m in the throes of dissertation writing, I’ve had few opportunities to delve into new publications. However, I recently taught selected chapters from Amy Lippert’s first book, Consuming Identities: Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco (Oxford University Press, 2018), which sparked an engaging in-class discussion about the interplay among migration, urbanization, and visual imagery (e.g. photographs, political cartoons, etc.). I’m also excited to sink my teeth into Seth Archer’s recently released book, Sharks upon the Land: Colonialism, Indigenous Health, and Culture in Hawai‘i, 1778-1855 (Cambridge University Press, 2018), as it appears to be a precursor to many of the themes I address in my own research on the Hawaiian Islands during the second half of the nineteenth century.

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies?

First and foremost, find something you’re passionate about, but also embrace any changes that may arise. When I began graduate school, I hoped to pursue a dissertation topic on the circulation of medical knowledge among municipal health officials in San Francisco, Sydney, and Honolulu; however, due to time constraints and funding hiccups, I found it to be in my best interest to focus my efforts on a single city. In so doing, I’ve been able to demonstrate how the physical and commercial growth of Honolulu had far-reaching consequences for other Pacific seaports and, inversely, how epidemic events beyond Hawai‘i had direct, persistent, and often detrimental effects on Honolulu’s development.

What torture do you endure, having to do research in sunny Honolulu? Describe a typical post-archive evening, so we can at least live vicariously through you.

Living in Hawai‘i for six months was pretty rough. In between the hiking adventures, sunsets, and countless acai bowls, I barely had enough time to take naps at the beach. Honestly, though, the Hawai‘i State Archives were open from 9am to 4pm, which gave me plenty of time to explore Honolulu and the island of O‘ahu.