Skip to content
Register Sign in Wishlist

Sharks upon the Land
Colonialism, Indigenous Health, and Culture in Hawai'i, 1778–1855


Award Winner

Part of Studies in North American Indian History

  • Date Published: January 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316626603

£ 24.99

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:
Hardback, eBook

Looking for an inspection copy?

This title is not currently available on inspection

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • Historian Seth Archer traces the cultural impact of disease and health problems in the Hawaiian Islands from the arrival of Europeans to 1855. Colonialism in Hawaiʻi began with epidemiological incursions, and Archer argues that health remained the national crisis of the islands for more than a century. Introduced diseases resulted in reduced life spans, rising infertility and infant mortality, and persistent poor health for generations of Islanders, leaving a deep imprint on Hawaiian culture and national consciousness. Scholars have noted the role of epidemics in the depopulation of Hawaiʻi and broader Oceania, yet few have considered the interplay between colonialism, health, and culture - including Native religion, medicine, and gender. This study emphasizes Islanders' own ideas about, and responses to, health challenges on the local level. Ultimately, Hawaiʻi provides a case study for health and culture change among Indigenous populations across the Americas and the Pacific.

    • Proposes a new model for understanding colonialism in indigenous society - the overlap of colonialism, health, and culture
    • Provides a useful case study for health in the Native American and Pacific past, with findings that can be tested and applied to other cases
    • Makes Native voices central in the narrative, providing unique native viewpoints on colonialism, health, and cultural change
    • Adds indigenous health as a crucial factor in the transformation (and eventual US occupation) of Hawai'i
    Read more


    • Winner, 2019 President's Book Award, Social Science History Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Seth Archer has written a path-breaking book about how ma'i malihini - diseases introduced by foreigners - repeatedly devastated the indigenous peoples of Hawai'i. Just as important, he has provided a compelling narrative revealing that despite the horrors of frequent epidemics Native Hawaiians did not disappear but instead carved out their own future. Sharks upon the Land is a must-read for those who want to understand the meaning and costs of European expansion.' Peter C. Mancall, University of Southern California

    'With a masterful command of both history and epidemiology, Seth Archer convincingly shows how a national health crisis, driven initially by syphilis, gonorrhea, and tuberculosis, affected every realm of Hawaiian society, from religion to politics to labor. Sharks upon the Land is not only an innovative history of Hawai'i. It is a clarion call to recognize one of the most important and overlooked consequences of colonialism: the devastating and multigenerational impact on human health.' Claudio Saunt, author of West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776

    'Sharks upon the Land is a readable, unflinching account of the ways disease and poor health drove Hawaiians to alter their lives. Eloquent, forthright, and utterly convincing, this book sets a new standard for future scholars.' Elizabeth A. Fenn, University of Colorado, Boulder

    'More than just addressing the important role that diseases played in the colonization of Hawai'i, Archer's impressive use of Hawaiian-language sources and the archival record uncovers a compelling narrative about Islanders' cultural responses to catastrophic health challenges during the first century of encounters with those beyond their shores.' Joshua L. Reid, author of The Sea Is My Country: The Maritime World of the Makahs

    'In this crisply written and compact book, Archer blends epidemiological, political, social, religious, and gender perspectives to paint the most convincing picture yet of the grim health experience of Hawaiians in the generations following the arrival of Captain Cook, his crew, and their microbes. An important contribution to Pacific, imperial, and health history.' J. R. McNeill, Georgetown University, Washington, DC

    'Sharks upon the Land offers important insights into continuing controversies about virgin-soil epidemics … Archer's work is a major contribution to historians' ongoing efforts to understand what happened and why.' David S. Jones, The Journal of American History

    '… Sharks upon the Land is a must-read for scholars looking for models of early contact population collapse and a provocative reinterpretation of a critical century in Hawaiian history.' Juliet Larkin-Gilmore, Journal of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316626603
    • length: 301 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 152 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.4kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of figures
    List of tables and appendices
    Note 1: language and terminology
    Part I. Encounters:
    1. Pox Hawaiiana
    2. Sex and conquest
    Part II. Revolutions:
    3. The dark ocean
    4. Throwing away the Gods
    Part III. Accommodations:
    5. Great fatalism
    6. The wasting hand
    Appendix A: terms for venereal disease
    Appendix B: population
    Appendix C: glossary
    Appendix D: selected persons

  • Author

    Seth Archer, Utah State University
    Seth Archer is Assistant Professor of History at Utah State University. From 2015 to 2017 he was the Mellon Research Fellow in American History at the University of Cambridge.


    • Winner, 2019 President's Book Award, Social Science History Association

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×
warning icon

Turn stock notifications on?

You must be signed in to your Cambridge account to turn product stock notifications on or off.

Sign in Create a Cambridge account arrow icon

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.