Adam Thomas Kersch

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

California, Davis, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10125

Approve Date

April 8, 2021

Project Title

Kersch, Adam (California, Davis, U. of) "The Biopolitics of Infectious Diseases, Vaccines, and Settler Colonial Whiteness on Lingít Aaní"

ADAM KERSCH, then a graduate student at University of California, Davis, California, was awarded a grant in April 2021 to aid research on ‘The Biopolitics of Infectious Diseases, Vaccines, and Settler Colonial Whiteness on Ling’t Aan’,’ supervised by Dr. Marisol de la Cadena. This research explores the shifting relationship between colonially imported infectious diseases, whiteness, and settler colonialism in Sheet’k’ (Sitka, Alaska), analyzing colonially imported infectious disease outbreaks from Russian (1799-1867) and Euro-American occupation (1867 ‘ present). These articulations of race and infectious diseases emerge from archival materials, such as journals and reports of Russian colonial administrators and physicians, correspondences between Euro-American governors and the federal government, and Tlingit oral narratives. It demonstrates that infectious diseases were a crucial matrix for settler colonial articulations of race and whiteness, providing a lens through which colonizers understood and exercised populational difference, including through the use of vaccines. During the COVID-19 pandemic, participant observation at vaccine clinics, in Facebook groups, and Sitka City Assembly meetings demonstrated how these historical formations emerge and take shape in anti-masking and anti-vaccine rhetoric. Whites who denounced COVID-19 mitigation efforts articulated their bodies as sites for implementing white supremacist policies and politics. At the same time, the government’s history of medical abuse and denigration of Tlingit people in Sheet’k’ made many of my Tlingit interlocutors hesitant to get vaccinated. Thus, this research provides insight into how whiteness has inflected responses to the current pandemic and outbreaks of past infectious diseases.