“The Polynesian Problem”: Western Studies of Pacific Islander Origins


Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 6:00pm to 7:00pm



Close up image of the speaker with long black hair, a grey scarf and light grey clothing.

“What is a Polynesian?” This is a question with a long and troubling history embedded in settler colonialism. From Europeans’ earliest encounters with the Pacific, White Europeans expressed a fascination and partial identification with the racial origins of Polynesians. Polynesians seemed to represent “natural man” in the purest state. In nineteenth- and early twentieth-century social-scientific studies, Polynesian origins became the subject of intense scrutiny and debate. Physical anthropologists such as Louis R. Sullivan declared Polynesians to be conditionally Caucasian. Maile Arvin will discuss this history from a Native Hawaiian feminist perspective, attentive to the ways Polynesians have challenged and appropriated such ideas. Maile Arvin, Assistant Professor of History and Gender Studies, University of Utah Presented by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology and Harvard Museums of Science & Culture.