The Pacific is an area largely understudied by historians, yet it is “an ocean covering more than a third of the Earth’s surface” and has “over 25,000 islands”, to borrow the words of the late Australian historian Greg Dening. In the past thirty years or so, a growing number of historians have shifted their attention to the Pacific. This includes such well-known scholars as Greg Dening, Anne Salmond, Gregory T. Cushman and Toynbee Prize Foundation Trustee David Armitage.
Our most recent guest to the Global History Forum, Professor David Igler, numbers among the dozens of scholars who believe that the importance of Pacific Ocean and significance of environmental history. David Bruce Igler is a historian of the American West , President of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, and Professor of History and currently Chair of History Department at the University of California, Irvine.
Professor Igler, a graduate of UC Berkeley, began his academic career as a U.S. historian specializing in the American West and environmental history. After publishing his book Industrial Cowboys: Miller and Lux and the Transformation of the Far West, 1850-1920, he decided to explore the waterscape and regions west of the West, namely, the Pacific Ocean. This research has consumed him for the past decade. The product is, The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013.
The prize-winning monograph draws on hundreds of documented voyages, some painstakingly recorded by participants, some only known by their archeological remains or indigenous memory. This leads to a window into the commercial, cultural, and ecological upheavals following the initial contact period, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Do industrial development and environmental transformation often happened in the same time? What makes Professor Igler shift from American history to Pacific history? Can humans have a dialogue with the Ocean? Professor Igler and Tiger Li, Editor-at-Large for the Toynbee Prize Foundation, discuss these questions in the following interview.