David Armitage at the Times Literary Supplement:
The Pacific has long been the hole at the heart of world history. For two centuries, global historians from the First World have hardly known what to make of the “fifth part of the world”. There’s just “so much ocean, too many islands”, the late Australian historian Greg Dening lamented ironically: over 25,000 islands in an ocean covering more than a third of the Earth’s surface and spanning from the Arctic to the Antarctic and from Southeast Asia to Central America. In the ages of paddle and sail, steam and propeller, every traveller could feel the connections between land and sea, the continents and the islands. The jet age seemingly rendered the Pacific Basin a kind of intellectual flyover territory – “the earth’s empty quarter” – for outsiders to Oceania and Australasia. The upshot, as the i-Kiribati scholar Teresa Teaiwa noted in 2002, was that “the dialogue between studies of humanity and studies of the Pacific” broke down. Only lately has the conversation resumed among historians. It now includes fish, mammals and birds. It takes place amid metaphorical mountains of fur, blubber and faeces. And it has lessons, even warnings, for the rest of the world.