Thesis ID: CBB598061587

Invasive Ecologies: Science and Settler Colonialism in Twentieth-Century Hawai‘i (2019)


Ashanti Ke Ming Shih (Author)
Sabin, Paul (Advisor)

Yale University
Sabin, Paul
Publication date: 2019
Language: English

Publication Date: 2019
Physical Details: 377

This dissertation explores the intimate relationship between settler colonialism, science, and preservation in Hawai‘i from the 1910s to the 1990s. Focusing on the area of Hawaii National Park—the first national park in an overseas United States territory—I weave together two threads. One is an intellectual history of ideas and practices concerning native and nonnative species, antecedents to the field of invasion biology (the science of invasive species). The other is a localized, socio-political history of the National Park Service’s relationship with Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians), with settlers of color, and with white settler society. Together, these interwoven threads demonstrate that “settler scientists”—scientists who have resided and worked on Indigenous land—and their epistemological practices have played a central role in Native dispossession, the marginalization of Native knowledge systems, and settler racial formations. I argue that settler science’s assertions of power over Hawai‘i’s plants, animals, people, and landscapes were based on a discourse of isolation and practices of static preservation; and that Native Hawaiian claims to expertise and land were grounded instead in notions of relationality and a practice of living preservation. Ultimately, my project unpacks the question of whose expertise and whose ethics matter in how we come to know and manage our natural environments. Throughout the study, I position the islands as a key locale of expertise and knowledge production in the fields of volcanology, botany, ecology, wildlife management, anthropology, and historic and natural preservation. The introduction presents the concept of “settler science” and explains its rise in the late nineteenth century, as permanent American scientific institutions, such as museums and experiment stations, were established in the context of the overthrow of the Native Hawaiian monarchy and a plantation economy dependent on Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Portuguese, and Puerto Rican labor. The first two chapters focus on American scientists who settled in Hawai‘i and developed practices that were entangled in the political, economic, and social realities of the US settler state. Chapter one documents the role that settler science played in seizing Indigenous land to create Hawaii National Park in 1916. Working with settler powerbrokers, scientists constructed Hawai‘i’s volcanic areas as a “perfect natural laboratory” for volcanology. I focus on volcanologist Thomas A. Jaggar, who developed a hybridized form of geological knowledge that appropriated Native Hawaiian beliefs about volcanoes. In chapter two, I turn to the collecting practices of botanist Otto Degener in the 1920s and 1930s, who attributed native plants economic value in collecting networks connected to the United States. Degener successfully positioned himself as the premier expert on native Hawaiian flora, but his work crucially relied on the labor and knowledge of Native Hawaiian informants, as well as involved cultivating queer domesticities with his Japanese, Chinese, and Korean botanical assistants. I focus on Degener’s collaborators, including Native Hawaiian botanist Henry Wiebke and Korean illustrator Kwan Kee Park, to unpack the complicated relationship of Kānaka Maoli and Asian settlers to American science. Chapters three and four take a deep dive into Hawaii National Park, which became a settler “refuge” for native species and Hawaiian culture. Chapter three chronicles the development of ecological ideas about species belonging in Hawai‘i, including the idea that the islands possessed a “pristine natural balance” before first European contact in 1778. From the 1920s onward, scientists came to vilify introduced species and advocate for native ones, which they believed were rapidly “vanishing.” In the 1930s and 1940s, the park became an experimental space for both Americanization and ecology—activities white settlers thought would solve imbalances in the Territory’s human society and in its nature. The Civilian Conservation Corps became a “disciplining” and “civilizing” colonial force, as Kānaka Maoli and settlers of color fueled the park’s science and preservation projects by day, and became versed in English, citizenship, and Christianity by night. In Chapter four, I show how Park Service desires to preserve native species and Hawaiian culture—both of which scientists believed were “vanishing”— translated into major land additions to the national park in the 1950s and 1960s. These acquisitions were based on claims of terra nullius (empty land), despite clear evidences of Native Hawaiian occupancy on the land and testimonies from residents. I also highlight Native ethnologist Henry Kekahuna, who collected and mapped Indigenous knowledge to in an effort to promote a living idea of Hawaiian culture that contrasted with the Park Service’s static practices of preservation. The final chapter explores a series of protests against the National Park Service by settlers of color and by Native Hawaiian activists. The 1970s was an era defined by Native Hawaiian resurgence, the American environmental movement, and the political-economic rise of the islands’ Japanese settlers. In these contexts, a group of Portuguese, Puerto Rican, and Asian settler hunters challenged the Park Service’s goat eradication policies and demanded that the parks serve “locals” rather than “mainlanders.” Simultaneously, Native Hawaiian activists led by Alma Mililani Kaiama and Alika Cooper launched formal critiques of the Park Service’s treatment of Native cultural sites and protested the agency’s very presence in the islands. In seeking to reclaim the parks and their own narratives, “locals” and Kānaka Maoli were asserting their own claims to knowledge, expertise, and land. The epilogue explores the promises and pitfalls of settler science and the National Park Service in the islands, including a discussion of co-management and the issue of invasive species. I argue that settler science has failed to fulfill its promises of cultural and natural preservation, and demonstrate how several Kānaka Maoli-led efforts, based on an ethic of aloha ʻāina (love of the land), are uniting the cultivation of a living culture with environmental stewardship as a form of slow resistance to settler colonialism.

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Authors & Contributors
Shih, Ashanti
Andrews, James T.
Archer, Seth
Ashby, Jack
Chang, David A.
Eamon, William C.
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Archives of Natural History
Canadian Historical Review
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Cold War History
Comparative Studies in Society and History
University of Minnesota
Cambridge University Press
CSIRO Publishing
Reaktion Books
University of Minnesota Press
University of North Carolina Press
Indigenous peoples; indigeneity
Science and society
Public health
Science and race
Nye, Mary Jo
Zilsel, Edgar
Allport, Morton
Degener, Otto
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
18th century
21st century
20th century, late
Hawaii (U.S.)
United States
California (U.S.)
New York Botanical Garden
Grampians National Park

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