“People, Fish, Ocean:
Enduring Encounters in Interwar Southeast Asia”
Ph.D. Candidate in Southeast Asian History
The world’s oceans have long been instrumental in shaping the fates and fortunes of human societies, and yet figure no more than saltwater in the archives of the written past. Indeed, historiographically, seas and basins have been largely conceptualized as infrastructure, linkages between shores. Anchored in a landlubber’s world, this otherwise rich literature has kept in place the assumption that oceans are unlike forests, deltas, and rivers, and thus exist “outside of history” (Bolster 2006: 574).
This talk, however, assumes a different approach. It examines the Asian marine environment not as a surface or linkage, but as an ocean of enduring encounters between people and fish, science and society, and technology and nature. The talk focuses on how these multiple encounters transformed the Philippine seascape in the wake of the nineteenth century. In particular, it looks at the rise of Mindanao’s tuna industry in the interwar years. By casting this iconic frontier within a wider milieu of peoples and environments, the talk shows how the ocean was central to Mindanao’s colonial development and its postwar positioning as one of the world’s leading tuna capitals.