Department of Ethnic Studies - College of Letters and Science - University of California, Berkeley

Courses / Undergraduate

Spring 2017

ETHSTD 103A | CCN: 34014

The Pacific War: Racializaton, Empire, and Popular Culture, 1931-1945

William Gow

4 Units


The Second World War, and in particular war in the Pacific, transformed the way that race was lived and popularly understood in the United States. From the large number of African Americans drawn to the West Coast for wartime jobs, to the US government’s mass incarceration of Japanese Americans, to the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles, the Pacific War had distinct ramifications for shaping dominant ideas of race and its intersections with class, gender, and sexuality within the United States. These wartime transformations were both reflected in and promoted by diverse forms of popular culture including Hollywood films, novels, festivals, and photography. Examining the policies of the United States and Japan through the logic of empire, the course focuses on the way that these and other forms of popular culture constructed ideas of race, gender, and sexuality during the war. While the course will use the racialization of Asian Americans during the war as a starting point, we will compare Asian Americans to other people of color in the United States and to other racialized minorities living in Asia.  In the process students will not only develop their own analysis of the way popular culture influenced racialization during this transitional moment in American history but also come to better understand what this history means for the United States today.