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Development and the Biological Management of Empire: Tropical Agriculture in Early Twentieth-Century Hawai‘i

Thu, March 15, 3:30 to 5:00pm, Riverside Convention Center, RC E


When officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s experiment station in Honolulu and the territorial government’s Board of Commissioners of Agriculture and Forestry contemplated the agricultural tasks that they faced, they sought nothing less than wholesale biological management of the Hawai‘ian islands. A mission of economic development based on management of the existing sugar economy and the introduction of new crops required myriad forms of ecological control. Irrigation, land management, and forest preservation aimed at regulating the islands’ water supply. Quarantine and inspection regimes sought to contain the threat of invasive species. When unwanted insect travelers thwarted human oversight, the USDA’s station deployed chemical means of control, while the territorial government dispatched entomologists to distant places, particularly in other colonial regions of the world, to gather parasites that might combat insect pests. Nor could humans entirely control each other’s access to the most desirable plant and seed varieties, although botanical gardens and other institutions certainly tried to do so on behalf of both states’ and private entities’ interests within the larger world of imperial power and colonial development projects. The different efforts to manage the island ecosystem in Hawai‘i reflected not just the biological basis of territorial rule, but also its embeddedness in intra-imperial, inter-imperial, and international relationships.


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