“The first episode Oceanizing History, emerged from a conversation with professor and curator Greg Dvorak. Author of the book Coral and Concrete: Remembering Kwajalein Atoll Between Japan, America, and the Marshall Islands (2018), Greg teaches at Waseda University in Tokyo and researches the postcolonial histories of Japan and the USA in Oceania. His work is related to his personal biography, spending part of his childhood on a US military base in Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The meeting with Greg took place in mid-April 2020, when the global lockdown was already becoming a new normal. He was in Tokyo and I was in Berlin, being able to connect on our screens precisely thanks to the network of underwater cables with which the Internet also occupies the oceans. Our conversation began by questioning the notion of an island as a metaphor for human isolation and as a pure surface of land floating on water. Not only are the islands of the Pacific materially connected to each other on a geological level, under water, but they are also connected on a social and cultural level thanks to the indigenous communities that have inhabited a common territory known as Oceania since the beginning of colonization.
The effects of the different colonizing impulses and their violence on this territory have been devastating throughout the centuries, from Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition to the nuclear testing in the 20th century. The local culture had been exoticized, the environment ruined, and the increase in tourism detrimental. In this regard, the effects of Covid-19 should be read as one more chapter in the history of Western and Asian power exercised over the Pacific. In fact, what has been presented as an exceptional and unique pandemic is a product of Western perspective: Covid-19 is a disease caused by a virus that binds problems and previous colonial diseases. The practice of storytelling, so important for the indigenous cultures of the Pacific, is also a tenant of Greg’s research, and was thus very present in the conversation. Despite the tragic reality of the current pandemic, the conversation also explored spaces to imagine, in the very long term, potential positive sides of the Covid-19 crisis. To mention a few: a humbler social consciousness focused on care, for humans and nonhumans alike; a greater awareness of the networks of co-dependence between apparently distant elements in time and space. As Greg says, it is not so much a question of including the ocean within history but of changing the historical paradigm itself. It’s about reading history from the ocean, about oceanizing history.”