Lawrence Kessler

Ph.D., Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine

2017 to 2018
Fellow in Residence

Planter's Paradise: Environment, Empire, and the Making of Hawaiʻi's Sugarcane Plantation System

My research focuses on the intersection of industrial agriculture, environmental change, and U.S. expansion in the nineteenth century. In my dissertation, I examine how, over the course of the nineteenth century, the Hawaiian Islands became one of the world’s most efficient and productive sugarcane plantation systems, and how sugarcane planting fueled the rise of biological, technological, and cultural exchange networks linking the islands to the outside world. The sugarcane plantation, I argue, was a point where ideas about nature, methods of converting the natural environment into commodities, and dynamic environmental conditions all influenced each other. As cane planting came to dominate Hawaiʻi’s environment and economy, it undermined Native Hawaiian sovereignty and increased U.S. power in the islands.