We Are Not American!: Teaching and Learning the 19th Century from Hawai’i

There’s a problem with teaching 19th-century American literature in Hawai’i. The problem arises from the fact that during the 19th century, Hawai’i was not, and, according to many Kanaka Maoli still is not, part of America. In 1893, the US overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom and its sovereign Queen Lili’uokalani, and in 1898 illegally annexed the Hawaiian islands, despite massive resistance from Hawaiian people. Hawai’i’s specific history is a particularly glaring and relatively recent example of the colonial situation under which 19th-century American literature is taught throughout the U.S.: it is all taught on stolen land. Hawai’i’s history and location, and how this place makes it impossible to forget about colonialism, present an opportunity for thinking about the challenges and paradoxes of teaching 19th-century American literature both in the islands and throughout the territories now known as the US. How might the problem of teaching this curriculum-mandated field of literary studies in an explicitly colonized place offer possibilities for teaching and writing with 19th-century American literature more broadly? How might contemplating this question from Hawai’i offer ways to think through how teachers and scholars on the continent could account for the distinct histories of the people Native to the lands on which they teach? And how might it help teachers both in Hawai’i and on the continent frame C19 Am Lit explicitly as literature of colonization? 

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