The Pacific Ocean is enormous. It is the world’s largest body of water, covering more than sixty million square miles—more than a third of the Earth’s total surface and a larger area than all of the land on Earth, combined. The Pacific touches five continents, contains 25,000 islands, and laps the shores of more than forty countries. It is also the world’s deepest body of water, and because of its vast size and depth, the Pacific Ocean holds just over half of the Earth’s water, more than twice as much as the Atlantic.
But as large as it is, the Pacific Ocean is made up of smaller places, and the ocean’s history rests in the connections between and among these places. Epeli Hau’ofa, the influential Tongan and Fijian scholar and writer, argued that Oceania was not "islands in a sea," separated by the ocean, but rather a "sea of islands," particular points connected by and through the waters between them. One way of understanding the vast Pacific, then, is through particular places, particular moments, particular sources: photographs and filmstrips, songs and short stories, newspaper articles and heartfelt narratives. Just as holding a seashell to our ears lets us hear the ocean’s roar, so too can we travel the ocean through these archival fragments.
Pacific Postcards, this online exhibit, collects essays by students in the U.S.C. seminar "Pacific Beaches and the American Imagination." For each essay, students selected and analyzed a single primary source, whether textual, visual, aural, material, or in other media. Some essays use scholarly arguments to illuminate the student’s chosen source, while other essays use a primary source to push against established ideas and suggest new directions. Their investigations range from the Philippines to the Galapagos, from Papua New Guinea to the Pacific Northwest, and span from the eighteenth century to the present day. Together, each source and essay are like a postcard — a glimpse of a place, faraway or close by, paired with a message of connection, across space, time, and ideas.
Pacific Postcards thus presents a student-centered atlas of new Pacific thinking. In the tradition of Pacific Studies, Pacific Postcards emphasizes a diversity of sources and celebrates multiple ways of knowing. The essays are not arranged in an particular order; instead, the exhibit is deliberately multi-linear and multi-hierarchical, offering the map, the timeline, and the tag cloud as possible (but not exclusive) interfaces for exploration. We invite you to explore the sources, ideas, and messages contained here, and to plot your own voyage through these imaginative waters.