Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of History & Politics - Faculty of Arts


This dissertation discusses interactions between politics and book publishing by missions and colonial governments in areas of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia over approximately 200 years. It argues that book publishing has played a fundamental role in shaping politics and that politics has, in turn, shaped book publishing in the Pacific Islands.

As a new means of communication in Oceania, book publishing shifted the nature of power by convincing people who did not previously read and write with alphabetic script to value literacy and books, to participate in publishing, and to spread text culture. From its inception, book publishing in the Pacific Islands has been a significant instrument of ideological power: power that can rest on customs, habits, interests, and loyalties; power whose causes and effects might be indistinguishable from each other; power that creates identities and forms societies although the participants themselves might be unaware of that power and how it effects political change. Participants might not distinguish between types of power, and even if they do recognize power and consent to it, they might still resent its existence and effects.

Far from portraying a unidirectional flow, wherein only foreigners have published information and instructed Pacific Islanders, this dissertation argues that some islanders have sought to participate in book publishing so as to express their views and/or those of their associates or communities, and this in turn has contributed to persuading and influencing other people, sometimes even across the Pacific. The organization of mission societies around publications, for example in biblical material, schoolbooks, or laws, often reinforced indigenous power, but it also eased the imposition of colonial rule. Ironically, command of text culture assisted islanders to negotiate with new and sometimes stronger political forces. The colonial era has reinforced the role of text culture in the organization of society, and published reiteration of particular languages, customs, and geographical boundaries has helped to shape and reshape polities that have endured well into the age of independent nation-states.

Although not all interactions between book publishing and politics were intended or even predictable, books and their publishing in Oceania merit investigation as forms, symbols, rituals, and exchangeable media of ideological power and political change. In reaction to political events, advocates of different viewpoints have, with varying degrees of consciousness, participated in publishing and text culture. In doing so, Pacific Islanders have participated in altering traditional political structures, and they have acted as agents of change in bringing new associations among people, who have melded imported ideas and practices with their own. This dissertation shows that books and their publishing have been catalysts, means, and products of political change in the Pacific Islands.

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