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Charts & Labor: Hydrographic Frontiers and the Geotechnics of Race in the North Pacific & Arctic Oceans, c. 1867/2017

Authors: Alexander Arroyo*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: TBD
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The 1867 Treaty of Cession not only stipulated the transfer of occupied Alaska native homelands and waters from Russia to the United States, but the delivery of Russian maps, charts, logbooks, administrative and church records to the U.S. Department of State, War, and the Coast Survey. Many of these documents represented the accumulated knowledge of weather, currents, coastlines and harbors extracted from decades of forced Unangan and Alutiiq/Sugpiaq labor in sea otter hunting fleets and other maritime work, and were key to subsequent surveys that mobilized North Pacific and Arctic waters as part of an emergent Pacific complex of American empire. Following recent scholarship that refocuses oceanic histories of empire and geographic knowledge production through diasporic complexes of indigenous labor, I aim to trace the way this "hydrographic frontier" operated as a kind of geographical and historical machine for assembling, organizing, and racializing environmental knowledge and the labor through which it was produced. Working primarily with (and against) archival (c. 1867) and contemporary (c. 2017) survey materials, I explore how trans-imperial representation of indigenous hydrographic work as compound geographic and technological (or "geotechnical") markers of racial difference delineate and reproduce domains of (racialized) geopolitical struggle or (indigenized) geoeconomic development.

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