Monday, November 24, 2014

Bay State Aloha

In honor of the passing of a beloved colleague from our history department Pam finished reading aloud a history book we have been enjoying together for some while. From her freshman year at Bridgewater until today, Professor Jean Stonehouse devoted her entire adult life to learning and teaching in our community. She was away only long enough for her graduate studies, returning to devote four decades to teaching history at her alma mater. For the past two decades, that service included leading our the local chapter of our faculty union, advocating for faculty and librarians, and by extension for the students we serve.

Faneuil Hall in a 1903 public-domain image. Wikimedia
Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes is a story about our adopted home state, a state we would love to visit some day, and the somewhat twisted connections between the two. The eventual colonization of Hawaii by the United States was set in motion by the audacity of Massachusetts missionaries. It culminated in 1899, as the implications of a closing frontier were becoming apparent. With the "sea to shining sea" conquest winding down, some political leaders began to rethink of Manifest Destiny as a global, rather than continental, mandate.

When U.S. House voted overwhelming to annex the nation of Hawaii on June 15 of 1899, a group that would come to be known as the Anti-Imperialist League gathered in Faneuil Hall in Boston, the city from which those missionaries had set sail eighty years prior. As Vowell writes, Boston attorney Moorfield Storey warned:
"When Rome began her career of conquest, the Roman Republic began to decay.... Let us once govern any considerable body of men [sic] without their consent, and it is a question of time how soon this republic shares the fate of Rome."
Clearly, the fall of the American empire has not been as rapid as Storey imagined, but neither is his warning without merit, as the aftermath of the American Century continues to unfold.

Vowell closed her story with reference to the song "Hawaii 78" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, better known on the mainland for his beautiful version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, about which I wrote in Hawaiian Beauty.

Aloha, Jean. May you rest in peace.

Lagniappe

My favorite librarian -- who actually read almost all of Unfamiliar Fishes aloud to me -- posted her own review, emphasizing the book's library connections.

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