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"West of the west?": The territory of Hawai'i, the American West, and American colonialism in the twentieth century

Aaron Steven Wilson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Hawai'i holds a somewhat nebulous place in American History. While it easily fits in the dominant narrative surrounding the Spanish American War of 1898 and World War II, Hawai'i rarely factors into other major historical fields, often making a brief cameo appearance when it does. Because the state is geographically placed at the western extreme of America, one supposes that western historians would gladly accept the task of chronicling Hawaiian history; yet, even academics in this field hesitate to embrace the region. In fact, some scholars who study the American West completely dismiss the notion of including the Hawaiian Islands. General American history textbooks reflect academics' uncertainty towards including the islands in the greater American narrative as they rarely mention Hawaiian events. Comparing Hawai'i with the continental territories, Native American policy, American insular colonies, and U.S. imperialism, however, quickly dispels the notion that Hawai'i lies outside the American West. In fact, it holds a very important role in American history as the transitional zone between the older expansionist American imperialism and a newer form of American colonialism. ^ Moreover, incorporating Hawaiian history into western regional studies forces scholars in the field to rethink existing paradigms. At the present, western historians view the West as a place lying roughly between the Mississippi River and the Pacific coast. Including the Hawaiian Islands, however, forces them to refine their rigid political definition of the West to allow for more fluid boundaries. This dissertation argues that including Hawai'i forces scholars to redefine the region as those incorporated territories throughout western North America and the Pacific Ocean which the United States conquered, subdued, annexed, and admitted into the Union. Moreover, it is a place in which American imperialism reshaped, and continues to shape, all facets of human life and the environment. ^

Subject Area

History, United States

Recommended Citation

Wilson, Aaron Steven, ""West of the west?": The territory of Hawai'i, the American West, and American colonialism in the twentieth century" (2008). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3315054.