Martin Dusinberre


The University of Zurich


Martin Dusinberre is Professor for Global History at the University of Zurich. His research focuses on the history of Japanese migration across the Pacific Ocean in the late-nineteenth century, and on the history of Japanese imperialism more generally. His first book, Hard Times in the Hometown (2012), was a microhistory of a nuclear village in Japan from 1800 to the present day. He is currently completing his second book, on global history methodologies, and developing a serious learning computer game for the teaching of global history. He has ongoing research projects funded by the Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

“The Changing Face of Labor Between Hawai'i, Japan and Colonial Taiwan; or, The Friendship and the Frame”

This paper examines one of the most iconic images of the first Japanese sugar laborers to Hawai‘i, painted by Joseph D. Strong in 1885. Now preserved in a private collection in Tokyo, the painting is a window into the world of transplanted lives in the late-nineteenth century, and the way these laborers became a contested site of imagination for different constituencies catering to their arrival—the Japanese government, the Hawaiian king, the sugar plantation owners, and the local press. Moreover, Strong’s work points to the complex layering of historical memory across the traditional historiographical divide of “Asia” and “the Pacific” in the early-twentieth century: the painting’s meanings changed between its departure from Honolulu and its arrival in Yokohama, and changed once again after it was bequeathed to the Taiwan Sugar Company in the mid-1920s. Taking the painting’s frame as a metaphor, the paper examines how the history of Japanese emigration to Hawai‘i was framed at the turn of the twentieth-century, and by whom. Who has painted this history, we might ask, and to what purpose?

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