Sarah Miller-Davenport

  • Fellowship year:2012-2013
  • University: University of Chicago
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: Possessing Hawai'i: Hawai'i Statehood and American Culture, 1945-1978
  •  My dissertation explores the transformation of Hawai'i into a U.S. state and its larger implications for American culture and politics.  My dissertation seeks to break out of the prevailing scholarship on Hawai'i statehood, which often treats it as the outcome of a quirky combination of economic interests, Congressional compromise, and demographic change, with some geopolitics thrown in the mix.  Instead, I argue that Hawai'i statehood carried profound implications for how the U.S. defined itself as a nation.  Hawai'i- as both a place and an idea- took on new significance in American society after WWII.  As the postwar period progressed, Hawai'i quickly went from an administrative and legal problem to an ideological one, revealing major divisions over what the role of the U.S. in the world should be and what American society itself should look like.  Previously a far-flung colonial dependency whose mostly Asian population was deemed inassimilable, by the time statehood passed Hawai'i had come to represent an embrace of a new conception of the nation, one that was no longer bound by old ideas of race, ethnicity, or territoriality.  In the aftermath of statehood, Hawai'i was constructed as a global showcase of both multicultural amity and American consumer bounty.  It is this utopian imaging of Hawai'i that my project seeks to both reconstruct and critique.  While Hawaiian statehood reflected the emergence of a new creed of liberal cosmopolitanism that celebrated pluralism in both international and domestic affairs, it also helped to obscure America's expansionist ambitions abroad and the persistence of inequality at home.