Lawrence Kessler

Ph.D. Candidate
Department of History
Temple University

2015 to 2016
Dissertation Fellow

Planter’s Paradise: Agriculture, Ecology, and Science in Hawaiʻi’s Sugarcane Plantations, 1778-1920

This dissertation examines the history of Hawaiʻi’s sugar industry in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. It asks how Hawaiʻi’s plantation system connected the islands to global networks of cultural, ecological, and economic exchange as the archipelago transitioned from an independent monarchy to an oligarchic republic and then to a territory of the United States. With research grounded in plantation records, trade publications, and personal correspondence, I argue that sugarcane planters used scientific and technological innovation not only to achieve profitability, but also to establish closer ties to American culture and networks of knowledge. As planters developed a scientifically and technologically sophisticated plantation system, they transformed the Hawaiian environment and turned Hawaiʻi into a hub of a global network of agricultural science. Yet even as the Hawaiian plantation system blurred the distinction between field, factory, and laboratory, planters promoted an image of Hawaiʻi as a naturally fertile Paradise for sugarcane growing.