(Re)Generations Program Series: The “Polynesian Problem”: Louis Sullivan’s Search for the “Pure Polynesian Type”
With Maile Arvin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History and Gender Studies, University of Utah
Thursday, August 12, 2021
6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
From their earliest encounters with Indigenous Pacific Islanders, white Europeans and Americans asserted an identification with the racial origins of Polynesians, declaring them to be racially almost white and speculating that they were of Mediterranean or Aryan descent. In the early 20th century, physical anthropologists like Louis Sullivan, whose work and legacy are at the heart of the (Re)Generations exhibit, tried to scientifically prove the long-lost white ancestry of Polynesians with the methods of anthropometry (the measurement and comparison of human physical features). This talk discusses Sullivan’s studies of the Polynesian race within the broader contexts of white settlers’ search for Polynesian origins in Asia or South America, often referred to as the “Polynesian Problem,” and eugenics, which at the time was a professional field that Sullivan fully participated in. This talk will also consider how Native Hawaiians and other Polynesians might think about confronting and refusing the legacies of these settler colonial and racist ideas which Sullivan and others perpetuated.
Dr. Maile Arvin is an assistant professor of History and Gender Studies at the University of Utah. She is a Native Hawaiian feminist scholar who works on issues of race, gender, science, and colonialism in Hawai‘i and the broader Pacific. At the University of Utah, she is co-director of Pacific Islands Studies. Dr. Arvin’s talk is drawn from her book “Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawaiʻi and Oceania,” was published with Duke University Press in 2019.
The (Re)Generations Program Series is presented in conjunction with the (Re)Generations: Challenging Scientific Racism in Hawaiʻi exhibition on display in the J. M. Long Gallery from February 20 – October 24, 2021.
The (Re)Generations Program Series is generously supported by the McInerny Foundation, Bank of Hawaii, Trustee.
Online Event Details:
- The program platform is Zoom, the free video conferencing software.
- A stable internet connection is required.
- The program waiting room will open at 5:45 p.m. and the presentation begins at 6 p.m.
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