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  • Shannon Bontrager

Mnemosyne Atlas Digital Guided Tour

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

Panel 8 of the Mnemosyne Atlas, "The Labor of Empire: Discovering and Producing Imperial Knowledge," is a prototype of the project for demonstration purposes only and does not represent the final shape of the panel. It focuses on the work of people and institutions to build an American empire. Part of the imperial process included building archives of knowledge and Americans accomplished this through the use of military power, scientific discovery, and economic development. This panel juxtaposes the events of the 1840s to help viewers visualize the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean expanse of the American empire side-by-side.

(In the true website version, viewers will be able to click on each image and follow along the tour image by image. I will try to simulate how this possibly may look here on my blog. If for instance, the viewer clicked on image 5 because they wanted to know more about the U.S. Exploring Expedition's interaction with Fijian tribes, they would see something like the following).

Alfred T. Agate, an honorary member of the National Academy of Design and artist on the U.S. Exploring Expedition drew Ko-m'beti in Fiji. Historian Jason W. Smith argues that American encounters in Fiji were an attempt to turn vast "empty" spaces of the Pacific into commercial opportunities. The Expedition took the experiences of "Manifest Destiny" of the American West and projected it onto an "American Pacific." But Ex. Ex. officers, as well as British and American museums, went to great lengths to describe Fijian tribes as cannibalistic and barbaric. Agate's painting of Ko-m'beti thus serves as a lens into a process of exoticizing, what Edward Said describes as "othering" while trying to justify American economic involvement in the Pacific. American desire to influence the economy of the Pacific World also contributed to the commodification and capitalism of Fijian culture. Ideas about food and gender changed among people in Fiji as did habits of consumption. American soldiers during the Second World War brought Coca-cola with them and Fijians learned to consume this American beverage. More recently Fijian bottled water--tied to myths about Fijian warriors drinking natural water to make them invincible in battle--has challenged the dominance of American sugary drinks in Fiji and in the United States as well as labor relationships between local Fijian workers and the American owners of Fiji bottled water.

Jason W. Smith, "The Bound[less] Sea: Wilderness and the United States Exploring Expedition in the Fiji Islands," Environmental History Vol. 18, No. 4 (October 2013), pp. 710-737

Edward Said, Orientalism, NY: Vintage Press, 1979.

Marshal Sahlins, "Economics of Develop-Man in the Pacific," Anthropology and Aesthetics, No. 21 (Spring, 1992), pp. 12-25

Martha Kaplan, Fijian Water in Fiji and New York: Local Politics and a Global Commodity," Cultural Anthropology Vol. 22, No. 4 (Nov., 2007), pp. 685-706.

Satendra Nandan, The Wounded Sea, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1991.

Sudesh Mishra, Diaspora and the Difficult Art of Dying, Otago University Press, 2002.

Fiji: Art and Life in the Pacific, Sainsbury Center for Visual Arts, 2017.

The Private Journal of William Reynolds: United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, edited by Nathaniel Philbrick, NY: Penguin Classics, 2004.

Each image from the panel would have a dedicated page with similar kinds of information and hyperlinks to guide viewers through the panel.

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