Shaping the Shoreline: Fisheries and Tourism on the Monterey Coast.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Author:||Buffett, Neil P.|
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529|
|Issue:||Date: Spring, 2010 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 3|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Shaping the Shoreline: Fisheries and Tourism on the Monterey Coast (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Chiang, Connie Y.|
Shaping the Shoreline: Fisheries and Tourism on the Monterey Coast.
By Connie Y. Chiang (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.
In Shaping the Shoreline: Fisheries and Tourism on the Monterey Coast, historian Connie Chiang skillfully illuminates the importance of "place," and in this instance, "contested place," with her exhaustive analysis of California's Monterey Coastline. Chiang paints her readers a portrait of one place - one coastline - held hostage by dual and competing interests each armed with conflicting visions of its future. These interests consisted of the fishing and tourism industries, both of whom "jockeyed far control over the coastline ... positing very distinctive identities for Monterey and its residents." (7) While both industries claimed dominance along the coastline at differing points throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, they were in constant competition over the resources, both tangible and aesthetic, that "nature" would provide. As the author explains, both groups "had very different ideas about what in nature had material value, how it should be developed, and who should have the power to do so. (7) As illustrated throughout the piece, the one coastline "that provided fish and shellfish for East Asians and southern Europeans was the same picturesque shoreline that delighted tourists." (12) Time and time again, Chiang skillfully demonstrates the lengths that representatives of both industries were willing to go in order to reap the vast resources they both desired.
To do this, Chiang, heeding the call of historians William Cronon, Alan Taylor and Stephen Mosely, successfully conjoins the two divergent yet intrinsically-related fields of social and environmental history. She explores the multifaceted racial, ethnic and socio-economic tensions which fueled opposition and competition between white tourism representatives and Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Italian fishermen. Throughout the piece, race plays an integral role as readers are invited onto a coastline that boosters and local residents hoped would attract white, middle-class vacationers, and that "white" and "non-white" immigrant, working-class fishermen desired to labor upon. However, as Chiang notes early on, competition for the Monterey Coastline also existed between the fishermen themselves. She explains that "as competition intensified ... Italian and Portuguese fishers tried to push aside their Chinese counterparts, while many local residents and outside observers discredited the Chinese and Japanese by accusing them of being destructive fishermen." (13) Described by local whites as "filthy" and "inferior," Chinese fishermen routinely found themselves, their fishing techniques, and their living conditions the subject of local and national debates and were, as Chiang notes, seen as a natural consequence of racial difference. (14) Clearly, as the author reminds readers throughout, the Monterey Coastline was never too far removed from the racial, ethnic and socio-economic tensions and discrimination that has come to define the American past.
While Chiang does offer readers a social history of Monterey, her tale is also an environmental history, in which she explores the various relationships men and women from both the tourism and fishing industries formed with their natural surroundings. Both, the author notes, "came to see the coastline as a commodity that could be altered and marketed to consumers." (7) By tracing the rise and fall of both industries throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, however, Chiang unveils the environmental costs of such a perspective. After decades of bountiful fish harvests, by the 1940s, "the fishery crashed, due to natural phenomena and unchecked human consumption." (10) The tourism industry, however, also negatively impacted the natural environment as the quest for an aesthetically-pleasing, resort landscape at times ran counter to commonly held ideas about environmentally sustainable development. More importantly, as Chiang notes in Chapter 2, "efforts to develop the coastline for a growing number of tourists conflicted with an unpredictable natural world. (46) On several occasions, "nature" reminded both industries that neither was truly in control of the coastline. Weather fluctuations and natural disasters greatly affected the profitability of both industries on a season by season basis, limiting critical passage to and from Monterrey. Ultimately, while the two groups were in constant battle with each other for control of the coastline, nature consistently dominated them both.
With Shaping the Shoreline, Chiang has put forward not only a truly remarkable work that has melded the fields of social and environmental history, she has put forward a piece that is easily accessible by academics and their students alike. Her work however, need not be limited to just the historian or his/her Environmental History and Labor History syllabi. With her thorough treatment of race, ethnicity, gender and labor, Chiang's analysis could easily be an asset to booklists in a variety of fields, including Sociology and Asian American Studies, to name only a couple. Nevertheless, while Chiang's treatment of the aforementioned fields remains noteworthy, it is in her treatment of place that I would argue Chiang's piece shines the brightest. While reading her narrative, I often thought of the work of Humanist Geographer Yi Fu Tuan, who, in Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, argued "what begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value. (1)" Clearly, Chiang's subjects along the Monterey Coastline came to know and understand their surroundings through their own experiences, within which they placed their own values upon the coastal landscape, and the neighbors with whom they competed to control it. While her book focuses primarily on the social and environmental implications of both tourism and fishing on the Monterey Coast, readers are subtly reminded throughout of the contested nature of the place both industries wished to control.
Neil P. Buffett
SUNY Stony Brook
(1.) Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: the Perspective Experience (Minneapolis; 1977), 6.
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