Thursday, November 19, 2015

Rare Books, the Tropics, Part 3

Illustration from Panama La Vieja by John F. Shafroth. Published by Imprenta Nacional, Panama City, 1953

Panama La Vieja by John F. Shafroth was written in English and translated into Spanish, displaying text in both languages and old photographs of ruins. These structures , the Spanish council, cathedral, convent, hospital, royal houses and fort were essentially the “first city founded by Europeans (in 1519) on the Pacific Ocean”—p.3. This coat of arms which promises the voyagers will find the Spice Islands (by passing through the Isthmus) underscores the European connection to the Pacific.

Illustration from Panama, Eslabon entre Dos Mundos. Published by El Servicio Informativo de los Estados Unidos, Balboa, Panama, 1953.

Panama, Eslabon entre Dos Mundos… published for the 50th commemoration of Panama’s independence, brings cultural and political aspects of Panama’s history into focus along with a chronicle of the Canal, its important foreign players and inhabitants, both native and immigrant. With pages of illustrations and photographs from each era beginning in 1502, it’s written entirely in Spanish, and includes maps and other graphics.

Cover of The Panama Canal August 15, 1914-1939 Twenty-fifth Anniversary. Published in 1939.

The Panama Canal August 15, 1914-1939 Twenty-fifth Anniversary is a publication of the U.S. Government, printed by the Panama Canal Press in 1939. It focuses in detail on highlights in the history of Spain’s efforts at opening a waterway through the Isthmus, the French government’s attempts to remove the geologic obstructions, and the American success in building the canal, which required years of planning and execution. The booklet’s chapters include “Sanitation and Health”, important due to diseases and tropical insect which carry them, and the “Panama Railroad Company”, transportation adjunct to the canal, built over swampland.

Rare Books in the Museum Research Library:

The Library’s rare book section offers topics like the Panama Canal, maritime policy and theory, voyages, the seafaring life, etc. Much the same as today, these books exemplify the culture and beliefs of audiences eager for new knowledge in scientific theory, political theory, historical fact and literature, but they were written in a world of 50 to almost 200 years ago. Please call the Library, or send an email message through our website, requesting to review these and other books in person.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Rare Books, the Tropics, Part 2

Souvenir Travel Photographs from the Panama Canal

Souvenir of the Panama Canal: a pictorial history containing the most important and interesting photographs ever published of the Panama Canal and Republic of Panama. / I.L. Maduro. Published by I.L. Maduro, Panama City. Date uncertain, 1900-1914?

Faux alligator-skin cover is off-red with a silver tone for the title, befitting the cover of a souvenir from the sub-tropical canal. Each page of about 200 pages in this letter-sized book carries large photographic records of buildings, housing, native peoples, and progress on the locks being built there. Many of the photographs appear to have been carefully rendered to represent a clear image.

Two images from the book are shown below, giving a sense of the dredging necessary in the early 1900s to open the waterways for ships.

A steam shovel and workers pose at Pedro Miguel.

A culvert and a man posed at Gatum Locks in the Panama.

Rare Books, the Tropics, Part 1

In the tropics for a Panama Hat: it was all about developing the West

For ages, an Isthmus held two oceans apart at what is now known as the country of Panama. Certainly aboriginal peoples in the region, and later explorers from European countries, tried to pry apart that piece of land, to make travel easier between the worlds of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

None of the earlier attempts were successful. In the modern sense, creating a waterway system that traversed the various sea levels from east to west, was not possible without money, technology and manpower. French and American attempts overlapped in the late 1880s, technologically and vision-wise.

Gold-seekers were extreme risk-takers of 1849. Some travelled over land in covered wagons and by train, some on board ship, and all experienced a rite of passage once arriving in Gold Country, right before it became the state of California.

Of the routes they may have taken, two of these must have influenced the decision of the U.S. to forge a treaty (1903) with France, the country then deeply involved with canal projects. In order to travers the mass of land that was the United States and arrive on the Pacific Coast required passage on a ship sailing from New York (for example), south along the continents of the Western Hemisphere, and around Cape Horn at the tip of South America, and then north along the Pacific coast of South America to San Francisco, a distance of 12,000 miles and many weeks’ journey.

An overland route was possible, combining a voyage by ship to Central America, and then a train ride over the Isthmus at Panama. This was the preferred, but expensive version, and did not rule out a second voyage by ship, from Pacific Panama to San Francisco. How this was possible is in itself a dramatic history.

The Panama Railroad Company had been formed in 1847 in New York in order to build railway transportation from east to west coast. Over 5 years of unremitting hardship, disease, and worker’s deaths, fifty miles of tracks were laid in the Panama region and the line was opened for business in January, 1855. The company served traffic from Central and South America, and to and from California and was really successful for 12 years, until the U.S. transcontinental railroad, a monumental competitor, was installed. Later, the Panama Railroad, a land-based company, added ocean travel to its business in late 1880s and began the profitable transport and provision of goods to the Panamanian region for foreigners living there.

Then in 1903, the Hay-Brunau-Varilla Treaty created an agreement between the U.S. and France. The Treaty gave the U.S. the option to overtake and complete the canal-building project begun by the French. Besides engineering the project, the ever-present threat of tropical diseases, and the provision of supplies from outside the region created severe challenges to the success of the waterway system.

At the opening of the Canal in 1914, after many years of overcoming obstacles in geology, climate and health associated with working difficult terrain in tropical conditions, the U.S. Congress created an organization known as “The Panana Canal” as distinguished from Panama Canal Zone, which denotes the geographic area. Eleven years earlier, the Republic of Panama had been formed, freeing the country from the clutches of Colombia, with whom it had been related since 1821.

Perhaps the most aggressive building scheme at the time would not have been possible without eradicating the threat and destruction of disease. Panama Canal construction workers, many of whom were not native to the Isthmus, remained to work on the Canal for years at a time. They thus required necessities such as housing, supplies, food and clothing. These items were readily accessible in their native countries and so they were shipped to Panama and then delivered to the commissary system which sold these items. This was possible due to the over-land transportation furnished by the Panama Railroad Company.

The workers’ experience also included sickness and death prevalent in the region due to malaria and yellow fever. Called “pestilential” by the publications of the times, it was one of the plagues to health brought under control at first by William Crawford Gargas, who taught sanitation and control of the insect breeding areas (water retention in pools and reservoirs close to housing).

Several rare books and pamphlets outlined in the following articles delineate the history of the Canal, each in a unique way.

Rare Books, the Arctic, Part 3

American Exploration in the Ice Zones… by J.E. Nourse. Published by D. Lothrop and Company, Boston and London (Trubner & Co., Ludgate Hall, 1884.

American Exploration concentrates on notable discoveries and expeditions of the 19th century. In one volume the offerings are: the relief voyage of the JEANNETTE (the Jeannette was a whaling ship wrecked in the waters near Alaska); a description of the merchant service; the Antarctic cruise of 1840 with Charles Wilkes; and the U.S. Signal Service Arctic Observers. There are over 120 wood engravings and several maps.

Charles Wilkes is known for his abilities as surveyor (Pacific Northwest Territories, and the United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842) for which he wrote a 5-volume treatise), an admiral; and during his contribution to the Civil War when he ordered gunboats to attack the Royal Mail ship, the Merlin, and as author of journals which described these exploits.

Photographs in more recent books on exploration at the Poles include names you are familiar with: Shackleton, Greely, Franklin, etc., published in the 20th century. Two examples which utilized photographs as illustrations to help tell the complete story are:

The Polar Regions in the Twentieth Century; Their Discovery and Industrial Evolution by A. W. Greely, 1928.

To the Arctic! The Story of Northern Exploration from Earliest Times to the Present by Jeannette Mirsky, 1949.

Providing a review of the extreme hardships they endured and paid for with their lives, their personal stories make history even more fantastic and their legendary accomplishments even more amazing. Illustrated with photographs, and some graphic illustrations, the books have an agenda for the reader: in some cases, heroism, and in other cases, nationalism, in still others, historical fact.

For a modern take on exploration of the arctic, see an interesting biography of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 1872-1962, writer of the introduction to “To the Arctic!...”. The biography is available here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Rare Books, the Arctic, Part 2

Illustration from The Mysteries of the ocean. Translated, edited and enlarged from the French of Arthur Mangin, by the translator of “The Bird”. With 130 illustrations by W. Freeman and J. Noel. London : T. Nelson and Sons, Paternoster Row ; Edinburgh and New York, 1868.

From the ice to the tropics : rare books in the Museum Research Library

Our Library has a rare book section? Yes, it does---with topics like the Panama Canal, maritime policy and theory, voyages, the seafaring life, etc. our rare books offer an armchair traveller's escape, but also a keen observation of journalism of the times. These books exemplify the culture and beliefs of audiences eager for new knowledge in scientific theory, political theory, historical fact and literature.

Fishing, Exploration, and Trade in Oil.

Fish and oil were popular commodities in the 18th and 19th centuries taken in quantities from the ocean to fulfill perceived needs. Costs were absorbed by the enterprises that funded the then politically-correct term, expeditions. Even then, controversy over exploiting natural resources was seen as a topic worthy of discussion.

Mysteries of the Ocean, an encyclopedic history, covers from ancient times until the middle of the 19th century. One of its main points tells how the oceans, habitat for the world’s water-loving plants and animals, were exploited by the Dutch and the English for all the whaling and fishing they could sell in Europe.

The book is composed of four sections that concentrate on ocean-related topics: The History of the Ocean, The Phenomena of the Ocean, The Marine World, and Man and the Ocean. The first three sections emphasize the scientific point of view, while the last identifies the contribution humans have made to evolution.

Man and the Ocean not only describes the natural world at the hands of humans but also the political events leading to the overfishing of mammals: the author/translator makes the point that fisheries both abused and speculated on the abundance of marine life. “The whale-fishery is justly celebrated. And yet (now), the entire family of Cetacea is already nearly extinct.”—Chapter 3 of Book Four, Man and the Ocean.

When the fisheries found whaling to be less profitable due to many factors, next, seals and walruses were hunted. The tusks of walruses, their oil and teeth were all valuable and were fished once whaling was seen as too costly in terms of human life and ships. The author says, “… A tooth of average size weighs three pounds, and an ordinary walrus furnishes half a ton of oil… “ p. 439-440.

Man and the Ocean, the last chapter, is a commentary that not only describes the natural world at the hands of humans but also the political events leading to the overfishing of mammals: the author/translator makes the point that fisheries speculated on and then abused the abundance of marine life. “The whale-fishery is justly celebrated. And yet (now), the entire family of Cetacea is already nearly extinct.”—Chapter 3 of Book Four, Man and the Ocean.

Stunningly, there are parallels today with the world of 150 to almost 200 years ago. Today’s topics of concern in conservation and ecology, in economics, and social history of gathering food were controversial over 130 years ago.

Rare books, the Arctic and the Panama Canal, Part 1

Rare books seem old, inaccurate, maybe difficult to understand, so why should I read them?

News and events that were exciting to readers long ago have become iconic in maritime history. Typical are discoveries by Drake, Columbus, Cook, or geographic exploration by Shackleton, Greely and Stefansson, or Pacific naval battles in World War II, adventures of circumnavigators, writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, and shipbuilders such as Matson and Bethlehem Steel.

When a topic resurfaces with a new point of view, new associations are forged with history. 19th century books, much like today’s books, articles, and movies on ecology, tend to focus attention on scientific fact, and on the exploitation of nature and marine life for human gain. Early in that century, exploration of the Poles was news.

Between the 19th and 20th centuries, political world views in tandem with technology were fast challenging old systems. Americans desired to be in control of their political borders, and beyond them, once they were fully aware of their value. To do that required spending money on the means and people needed to achieve control. One instance of this was the building of the Panama Canal.

Although first viewed as topics 100 years apart from each other, now, astonishingly, the Arctic and the Panama Canal are seen together in a surprising relationship. Take the March 2004 article in OCEANUS*, a magazine now online with archives, “How the Isthmus of Panama Put Ice in the Arctic”, a title which begs the question, is this about global warming?

From the ice to the tropics: Illustrations and Souvenir and Travel Photographs

Between the late 1800s and 1940, lacking in the kind of media we are so dependent upon today, avid information seekers turned to books. The books we have from that time are well-illustrated, have short chapters with attention-grabbing headings, and deliver quite readable commentary with many points of reference. In other words, you could read a part, and not the entire book, if time was lacking, or you were searching a particular topic.

A kind of journalism mixed with fantasy prevailed, the illustrations are usually black and white drawings, at times rendering horrific scenes as pretty pictures. The act of killing walruses, or sending workers into swamp-like jungles to cut railroad beds showed that humans ruled and nature succumbed, or so we believed. When a publication featured photographs, the result was documentary or factual in nature, and even more believable.

Awe-inspiring stories recounting travel and conquest of mammals living near icebergs loomed large in the minds of readers who never imagined they would travel there or ever see a whale or other cetacean. Yet, it was possible, even highly probable, that many readers of material on the Panama Canal would soon journey there and survey things for themselves. So the books illustrated with photographs had extra value as inspiration for future travel.

Take a second look at rare books in the Museum’s Research Library.

Two eras in the 19th century, one at the beginning and one at its close, are examples of the rare books in the Museum’s Research Library. They feature the end of the whaling fisheries, and the beginning of cross-continental travel by sea. We start at the top of the world.

*OCEANUS magazine article online is available here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Women Who Served in World War I

The First, the Few, the Forgotten: Navy and Marine Corps Women in World War I by Jean Ebbert and Marie-Beth Hall

Women played and important and large role in World War I, however their work has gone largely unnoticed. The First, the Few, the Forgotten: Navy and Marine Corps Women in World War I by Jean Ebbert and Marie-Beth Hall presents a detailed account of the experiences and achievements of these women serving in World War I. Starting in March 1917 this book follows the women who joined the Navy and Marine Corp through the First World War, touching on everything from housing, uniforms, service jobs, retirement, and personal motivations. Later chapters discuss how these WWI women veterans shaped the future for women in the Navy and Marine Corps. One of these women, Yeoman (F) Joy Bright Hancock, played an important role in the Navy's newly created Women's Reserve (WAVES) during World War II. This book has 10 chapters divided into short sections covering specific topics. Each chapter features a short summary at the end making this book ideal for research. The Appendices include additional information, including a detailed chart of any legislation relating to female Marines and Yeoman.--AEpperhart

Friday, October 30, 2015

Fur Trading After Lewis & Clarke

Astoria, John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire, a Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival. / Peter Stark. Published by ECCO, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2014. 366 pages, illustrations, including portraits.

Astoria, written by Peter Stark is an intriguing book that tells an exciting story. The book is well-researched such that biographies of the main characters are included in this largely unknown story of exploration.

Following upon Lewis and Clark's successful discovery of an overland route to the Pacific Ocean, Thomas Jefferson encouraged general migration across the Mississippi River to establish habitation in newly acquired "Oregon Country" and to set up trading routes across the Pacific to China.

John Jacob Astor was a recent immigrant from Germany but within a few years had formed a prosperous fur trading business in New York, as well as in real estate. Animal pelts were obtained from Canada and the furs were traded both locally and exported to Europe where a large demand existed. As Canadian fur trappers were gradually moving westward in their search for more pelts, Astor saw the potential to form a similar fur trading enterprise on the Pacific Coast with China as its preferred customer.

Astor with selected American and Candian partners prepared and funded an expedition to reach and set up a trading post in what is now the state of Oregon and to market animal pelts and furs from the western regions of Canada. The planned expedition consisted of a land party following the Lewis and Clark route from St. Louis and a sea route from New York around Cape Horn to meet at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Both parties of the expedition experienced challenges and setbacks. The land party was troubled with native tribes, weather delays and lack of food sources. The sea party had problems with navigation, storms and diversions but persevered with a crew that was regularly abused and punished by a young ex-Navy captain.

Eventually a trading post was built at Astoria, named for the expedition's benefactor. Communication was a serious problem: Astor was deprived of news from either party for over a year from their departure. As well, inventory was accumulating at the post but the lack of available ships prevented any overseas trading, although local trading with natives was ongoing.

In 1812, the U.S. declared war on Great Britain. Canada was at the time a colony of Great Britain, and this meant that all the Canadians working for Astor were now enemies of the few Americans working at the trading post. The North West Company and the Hudson Bay Company, both Canadian trading companies, were now instructed to purchase the inventory of Astor's trading post as cheaply as possible, and to set up trading posts in the immediate area. Hostility between Canadians and Americans was avoided and the personnel left the now empty trading post to return home, mainly by the overland route, to their respective countries.

Astor's idea of a west coast fur trading emporium located at the mouth of the Columbia river consequently failed. Astor's New York fur trading business continued to thrive, as did his real estate acquisitions. Although Astor lost money on the west coast project, he was well compensated by his immense wealth which at the time amounted to one percent of the United States GDP (gross domestic product).--DKendall

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Jeanne Baret, Who Found Bougainvillea in South America about 1768

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: a Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe by Glynis Ridley, 2010. Published by Crown Publishers, New York. 288 pages, illustrations, portraits.

Thoughtfully composed, the author’s treatise on the first woman botanist to circumnavigate the globe, and undercover at that, is a page-turner. A very complex story, “The Discovery of Jeanne Baret” illustrates the monumental achievements of two 18th century botanists travelling abroad. Such an effort demanded great personal sacrifice from anyone, but especially from Jeanne Baret who had to hide her personal identity from her captain and his crew: women were strictly forbidden passage on board naval vessels.

At the time, explorers had discovered much of the world for their countries along with the most expedient ocean passages to great treasures known to exist in exotic lands. Fruits and spices from the Pacific islands were new to Europe, and monopolies on their trade made acquiring them difficult. European countries were then in fierce competition to locate, acquire and then preserve samples and name flora as they “discovered” it while on voyages from continent to continent. Given the social and political climate in France at the end of the Age of Discovery, combined with the reality of life at sea on a French frigate* or flute** it is amazing that a young woman from the countryside of France obtained the job of valet to a naturalist, and with it passage on a ship sailing from Le Havre, France in 1767.

The story is one of relationships and dependencies. Perhaps due to the very strict social structure of 18th century France, Jeanne Baret stands out a renegade, a patriot, and a woman looking for adventure, a fact which by itself characterizes Baret as intensely dedicated and loyal. She was from the French countryside, she had become an herbalist as a young woman, and she had one connection that helped her gain access to the threshold of scientific discovery for France in the late 1760s. The climate was ripe for scientific exploration and she had met and become close to a naturalist near her home town in Burgundy, France. Philibert Commerson, her naturalist friend had two connections, Carl Linneaus and a ship’s captain, Jean Claude Bougainville, who was given the charge of commanding the French expedition to the Pacific Islands.

Author Ridley typified the roles of ship’s captain, ship’s surgeon, and the voyage’s supernumeraries*, with enough detail to show them as competing with each other whenever wit or luck were all there was between them and the seeming whims of their captain or the ocean. The least they bargained for was safe passage, and as possible, clamored for the opportunity to make scientific discoveries for France. Though personal kindness of some officers could be counted on, it was not enough to keep Baret safe throughout the voyage, against the prejudices of the crew. Because special treatment had eluded them, they were otherwise undistinguished; they begged for mercy or hid from condemnation, a particularly dicey situation at sea.

Our heroine and her co-conspirator were less transparent, about whom not much is known of their character, since the author renders the biography by assumption. Jeanne and Philibert are not fully represented against the backdrop of all concerned individuals, and thus are somewhat disappointing. For a biography, there is obvious conjecture among the details in the book.

In the end, Baret’s botanical findings are somewhat underwhelming, in that for the reported 6,000 items collected and named; only one, according to the story, can be attributed to her, and one other was named for her. However it was no small feat to have journeyed by ship to Tahiti and the South Seas to the island of Mauritius and then to Madagascar, and finally home to France, after a 7-year stay off the coast of Africa. Her daily tasks were to prepare plants specimens, label and keep them from water and insects as their presence grew in the ship’s hold (actually the cabin shared by herself and Monsieur Commerson, the naturalist on board the ship, Etoile). She followed the classification system then newly developed by Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus, with whom Commerson had become friends.

Supernumeraries: non-crew members of an expedition, the passengers in this story were scientists who were valued, but also seen as a liability.

*Frigate: type of naval ship which carried guns

**Flute: small ship of Dutch design, built as a storeship

Friday, July 17, 2015

Skin Art and Whales Teeth at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum

Tattoo History: a Source Book: An Anthology of Historical Records of Tattooing throughout the World. Edited and Introduced by Steve Gilbert with the Collaboration of Cheralea Gilbert. Published by Steve Gilbert, 2000. Printed by Juno Books. 216 pages, includes illustrations, references and index.

Since ancient times, tattoos have been identified as the co-expression of the tattoo artist and the person being tattooed. Perhaps because the topic is currently regarded as exotic, author Gilbert's treatment is a fascinating and thorough history and an absorbing read. The author covers details of the uses and meanings of tattoos in ancient and modern societies. In Japan, for instance, when tattoos were common between the 17th and 19th centuries, the art of Japanese wood-block printing featured detailed portraits of skin painting. Gilbert describes the illustrations from a book, Suikoden, a tale of outlaws in old China in the 12th century. When this book was published by a Japanese ukiyoe* artist in the late 1820s, it was immediately popular. The artistic style of these Japanese tattoos became iconic and represented personal values such as courage and loyalty.

In 21 chapters, Gilbert’s Tattoo History, a Source Book, examines the images in tattoos and portrays tattooing as an intricate combination of art and technique. Outlining its recent developments in the United States and Polynesia and elsewhere, Gilbert includes the contributions of late twentieth century artists Sailor Jerry and Don Hardy. The book is illustrated with both black and white and color photographs and line drawings, and includes chapter by chapter references and an index.

*ukiyo-e is a Japanese word that refers to a style of printmaking and painting of very colorful figures and landscapes designed to illustrate stories, folk tales, and ultimately a wealthy and merchant class lifestyle.

An exhibit entitled “Tattoos and Scrimshaw: the Art of the Sailor” is currently on view at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum until mid-December, 2015.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Seafaring Women

Ida Lewis, fearless, capable and determined, rescued drowning sailors for almost 40 years from the icy waters of the harbor near Lime Rock Light in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island. This illustration is from the book, "Women of the Century" By Phebe Ann Hanaford 1876. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Representing courage, ability, and resolve, qualities of the women whose daily lives were non-traditional, but no less valuable, than a man’s in the same jobs, is a collection of literature on Women in Maritime History. The years spanning the middle of the 19th century through the middle of the 20th century was an era most notably exceptional for women, as the Age of Sail offered unlimited adventures to the brave.

Watch for selected titles coming soon to the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library:

Ahab's Wife, Or, The Stargazer: A Novel. / by Sena Jeter Naslund, and Christopher Wormell. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999.

Captain Ahab Had a Wife: New England Women & the Whalefishery, 1720-1870. / by Lisa Norling. Chapel Hill, N.C: U of North Carolina, 2000.

The First, the Few, the Forgotten: Navy and Marine Corps Women in World War I. / by Jean Ebbert and Marie Hall. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute, 2002.

Girl on the Ocean Floor. / by Lotte Hass. London: Harrap, 1972.

Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700-1920. / by Margaret S. Creighton. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

The Island of the Fisherwomen. / by Fosco Maraini. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962.

Moon Tides: Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea. / by Brenda Sunoo, and Youngsook Han. Seoul: Seoul Selection, 2011.

The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire. / by Susan Ronald. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

Women Sailors and Sailors' Women: An Untold Maritime History. / David Cordingly. Random House, 2001.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Two for One


A Residency of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands by Hiram Bingham was first published in 1847. The edition in the Library was printed in 1987 by Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc.



The group of islands known as Hawai'i stretch for 1500 miles in the Pacific Ocean.  A lone archipelago, Hawai'i is situated about 1800 miles west of coastal North America, 2600 miles from Tahiti, and over 4,000 miles from Japan. Until the British explorer James Cook “discovered” Hawai'i in the late 1780s people there lived by traditional customs, beliefs and laws.  But for forty years after Cook, foreigners invaded the islands, changing the culture, and virtually wiping out barbaric customs* to replace them with Western ways. 

The book entitled A Residency of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands is description of Hawai'i, also known as the Sandwich Islands before it became the 50th state, and covers native Hawai'ian culture of the late 1700- and early 1800s and their history with strangers, especially Westerners. 

Author Bingham, a New World evangelist, was a member of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. This group had an agenda to spread Christian philosophy to “improve the lives” of peoples who did not yet embrace the faith.  Also, they were Protestant and in competition with Catholic missionaries.  Bingham critically opposed Hawaiian lifestyles and habits as pagan; he thought these attributes were an impediment to learning and the acquisition of the Christian faith he sought to promote.

In the book, Bingham's moral view of the world, then shared by many of his readers in America, is superimposed on the inhabitants of the Sandwich Islands. He believed in the Christian ethic, and that disease would be eradicated, and the fortunes of the people would improve if they would adopt the new religion.  In today's world this kind of intervention would be condemned as biotry and meddling. The process of a cultural exchange in which traditional beliefs and behaviors are replaced with Protestant ones is detailed in A Residency of Twenty-One Years... and a reader gets two sides of the story, Bingham’s and the Hawai'ians he encountered, in one volume.

In the 19th century it was discovered by missionaries that local languages were not written down and there were no texts that described the Hawai'ian history, its culture and peoples.  Bingham was convinced that if a connection between language, written history, and religious instruction, the Hawai'ians would succeed in acquiring the new religion.  So he labored to translate the Hawai'ian language and translate English into the local language, thereby contributing to Western knowledge and understanding as well.

The book was a reprint by the publisher, Charles E. Tuttle Company, whose Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan offices have produced a whole library's worth of books on Pacific Island histories.  The company got its start just after World War II in Tokyo when Charles Tuttle's fledgling publishing concern produced English-language books for occupied Japan.  At the time, translation and the interpretation of language and customs were popular topics for oversees personnel.

The 27 chapters of the book are a description of the evangelist's work and his interaction with the people, from 1820 to 1845.  Six illustrations, engraved from original sketches by Bingham, are included from the original imprint of the book.

 
*Barbaric customs such as infanticide, bodily mutilation when grieving for lost loved ones, and human sacrifice have been documented as those practiced in Pacific Island cultures prior to the imposition of Western law, religion and customs.