“The Polynesian Problem”: Western Studies of Pacific Islander Origins


Mar 17, 2021, 10:00 pm


Free Online event via Zoom

Free Virtual Lecture

Maile Arvin Assistant Professor of History and Gender Studies, University of Utah

“What is a Polynesian?” This is a question with a long and troubling history embedded in settler colonialism. From Europeans’ earliest encounters with the Pacific, White Europeans expressed a fascination and partial identification with the racial origins of Polynesians. Polynesians seemed to represent “natural man” in the purest state. In nineteenth- and early twentieth-century social-scientific studies, Polynesian origins became the subject of intense scrutiny and debate. Physical anthropologists such as Louis R. Sullivan declared Polynesians to be conditionally Caucasian. Maile Arvin discusses this history from a Native Hawaiian feminist perspective, attentive to the ways Polynesians have challenged and appropriated such ideas.

Presented by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology and the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture.

About the Speaker

Dr. Maile Arvin is Assistant Professor of History and Gender Studies at the University of Utah. She is a Native Hawaiian feminist scholar who works on issues of race, gender, science, and colonialism in Hawai‘i and the broader Pacific. She is the author of Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawaiʻi and Oceania (Duke University Press, 2019)