Our History

The Department of History at the University of Hawaiʻi[1]

Among the first thirteen faculty members of the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts of the Territory of Hawaiʻi, which began classes in September 1908, there were no historians. By 1919, with WWI hastening change, William Kwai Fong Yap, assistant cashier at the Bank of Hawaiʻi, led a movement which succeeded in changing this land grant college into a university with two colleges: Arts and Sciences and Applied Science. The College of Arts and Sciences officially came into being on July 1, 1920, and classes, including history, began in September. By then, the faculty had grown to forty-four members.

From the start of liberal education at the University of Hawaiʻi, History was designated along with Economics and Social Sciences as Group I; Languages, Literature, and Art formed Group II; Natural and Physical Sciences Group III; and Education Group IV. Students chose majors from these groups. The first semester offered Medieval History, General European History, Europe in the Nineteenth Century, American History, European Expansion in the Pacific Area, History of Japan, and History of China. Karl C. Leebrick (University of California Ph.D. 1917 and later president of a private college on Maui) and Mildred M. Yoder (Oberlin B.Phil. 1894) shared the European and American history offerings. Tasuku Harada (Yale B.D. 1891, Amherst D.D. 1910, Edinburgh LL.D. 1910), who had been president of Doshisha University (1907-19), was recruited to introduce and teach Japanese language and history. Tien Mu Wang (jinshi degree, Chinese imperial examinations, LL.B. Chuo University, Japan) taught Chinese history as well as language.

While not beginning as a department, history was recognized as an indispensable field in the liberal education of youth. Its listing together with the social sciences illustrates their shared but not symbiotic relationship. Also, the early history curriculum reflected the international milieu of Hawaiʻi—an early appreciation of Asia-Pacific historical realities as seen the offerings on Japan, China, and Europe in the Pacific. While not the first among U. S. institutions of higher learning to offer courses on China and Japan (Yale, for instance, offered Chinese history in the 1870s), the University did not offer such courses under the cloak of what later came to be called Orientalism. Rather, China and Japan were offered because each had its own history, and they were not extensions of other political and cultural interests. The early faculty taught what is now considered a heavy load, with Ms. Yoder also offering courses in the social sciences.

The 1920s

The 1920s: For China, Shao Chang Lee (Yale B.A. 1917; Columbia M.A. 1918) replaced Tien Mu Wang in 1922. Lee, a loquacious and “dynamic” personality, later helped University President Gregg M. Sinclair build Chinese studies within “Oriental Studies” to make the University of Hawaiʻi an exemplar of this field (now called Asian Studies) among universities outside of China and Japan. Lee later headed the international studies program at Michigan State with energetic distinction. In 1923, Ralph S. Kuykendall (University of California M.A. 1918), at the time executive secretary of the Hawaiʻi Historical Commission, joined the faculty. His courses and his monumental work on Hawaiʻi history secured and directed the field. In 1927, Thomas A. Bailey (Stanford Ph.D. 1927) joined the faculty in American history. Harada’s presence continued into the 1930s. In the 1920s, History enrolled a student by the name of Shunzo Sakamaki, who succeeded well in his studies, acted in college plays, and debated on the team that bested Oxford University in 1925. Sakamaki returned to his alma mater in 1936 to continue and expand the field of Japanese studies. The Department of History is now housed in the building bearing his name.

The 1930s

The 1930s were heady times for the University. Coming out of the Depression, the curriculum expanded and other notable historians joined the faulty. References are now made to a Department of History and Government, with historians and political scientists alternating as chair (for instance, Charles Hunter and Paul Bachman). In the China field, Ch’en Shou-yi now joined the department as S. C. Lee took on more duties in Oriental Studies. Ch’en brought to the teaching of China a comparative approach, his special focus at the University of Chicago (Ph.D. 1928) emphasizing Chinese-Western cultural relations. His work on China in eighteenth-century English literature is to this day an exemplary study. Charles Hunter (Stanford Ph.D. 1935) joined in 1936 to augment Hawaiian history. Sakamaki joined in the same year as instructor and completed his Ph.D. at Columbia in 1939. Klaus Mehnert (Berlin Ph.D. 1928) arrived in 1937 and offered History of Western Civilization, Modern Russia, Russian Culture and Thought, Europe in the Pacific, Russia-in-Asia, Russia in the Pacific. To him can be traced the long commitment to Russian history by the department, as seen in its continuation with the professorships of John A. White, Rex Wade, Donald Raleigh, and Louise McReynolds. Later, John J. Stephan continued the Russia-in-Asia emphasis in addition to his courses on Japan. Sakamaki and Ch’en expanded Chinese and Japanese courses (China and the West, Social History of China, Diplomatic History of Japan, Japanese Thought and Culture, The Far East). Graduate seminars appeared by the late 1930s. Just before WWII, the history curriculum listed also Diplomatic and Colonial History of Modern Europe, Constitutional History of England, History of Central Europe, Diplomatic History of the United States, Representative Americans, Constitutional History of the United States, History of Hispanic America, The Pacific Region in Modern Times, History of Early Civilization in the Far East, History of Ancient China. In spite of the consequences of the Depression, the 1930s, as far as the history curriculum shows, seems a time of an untroubled internationalism, an appreciation of global scope, and a quiet cosmopolitan outlook.

WWII changed all that. Suspicions of loyalty decimated and dispersed the faculty and other resources. The popular Klaus Mehnert left under such a cloud;[2] students and faculty of Japanese descent went through traumatic years of having their loyalty questioned. Some were incarcerated. Some, in spite and in face of their nation’s mistrust, enlisted to fight and do other military service. Professor Thomas D. Murphy’s account of this chapter of Hawaiian history is aptly titled Ambassadors in Arms. The post-WWII suspicion of Communist sympathizers, exacerbated by the Korean conflict, reaching a zenith in the years of the Senator Joseph McCarthy hearings, halted and/or mangled Chinese studies nationwide. A general pall covered other disciplines as well. But the post-war rebuilding of the department was left to new arrivals in the 1940s and early 1950s: Thomas D. Murphy (English history), Arthur J. Marder (Russian, European, and British naval history), John A. White (Russian, European diplomatic, and Asian history), John Stalker (American history), and Donald D. Johnson (U.S. Diplomatic history).

The 1940s to early 1960s

The late 1940s until the early 1960s saw the above joined by Cedric B. Cowing (American history), Weldon Ernest (medieval European history), Minoru Shinoda (Japanese history and thought), and Herbert F. Margulies (American constitutional history). While referred to as separate departments, History and Political Science shared physical quarters in Crawford Hall with a single secretary. The rebuilding followed Hawaiʻi’s quickly changing social and political tempo. Returning veterans, first from WWII and then from the Korean conflict, filled the student ranks as well some of the faculty posts. A Korean conflict veteran, James C. Connors (B.A., M.A. in History at the University of Hawaiʻi, Ph.D. Yale) returned in 1965 to teach European thought and World Civilizations. A scholar from Australia, Gavan Daws, enrolled in the new doctoral program, established 1960, to study Hawaiian history. His works in the field eventually brought him the Pacific Chair at Australian National University, and beyond that, a career in writing, film, and music.

The period was nourished by tales of the legendary professor Arthur Marder. While a junior at Harvard College, he had gained accesses to the British Admiralty to study its history. Distinguished works followed during his career and his lectures enthralled students. Soon after a research trip to London, he placed his newly accumulated notes on the floor of his office. Mistaken for trash, the box of notes was hauled away. Marder went straight back to England and reassembled all the notes. “Write books, don’t bother with articles!” was his advice for new faculty. Marder was knighted for his work on the British navy, with Cedric Cowing present at the ceremony in Oxford.

In 1945, the department offered World Civilizations, one of the first institutions in the nation to make such courses part of its curriculum. In 1967, these courses became part of the core requirement for all undergraduate students at the University. This was a major step in recapturing some of the international scope of early years. It was also a timely response to post-war realization of the need for global historical awareness.

History Department faculty throughout this period became part of two major processes that influenced subsequent decades: Hawaiʻi statehood and the efforts that led to the creation of the East-West Center.

The curriculum expanded rapidly as the 1960s began. An influx of new faculty members arrived to bolster the fields of U. S., China, Japan, Southeast Asia, India, and Korea. The department was achieving depth in the above fields well beyond other U.S. universities. University strategic plans, roughly spaced at five-year intervals and involving some members of the History faculty, articulated the importance of an Asia- Pacific emphasis at the university. Thus Asia and Pacific history courses now were subdivided into periods of Ph.D. fields, in the manner of European history fields at Mainland institutions. The university was setting priorities and the department took an active and leading role in East-West matters of curriculum and programs.

At its height, the department’s Asia field held five historians of Japan (Minoru Shinoda, George Akita, Robert K. Sakai, V. Dixon Morris, John J. Stephan), five for China (Daniel W. Y. Kwok, Harry Lamley, T. Y. Tao, Brian McKnight, Stephen Uhalley, Jr.), three for Southeast Asia (Walter Vella, Robert Van Niel, Truong Buu Lam), two for Korea (Hugh H. W. Kang, Yong-ho Choe), two for India (Jagdish P. Sharma, Burton Stein), one for Southwest Asia (Elton L. Daniel). The FTE count hovered around 39. Other University entities now tapped the services of department colleagues. The East- West Center claimed the services of the Japanese medievalist Minoru Shinoda as its director of the Institute of Advanced Projects. Daniel Kwok, while continuing to teach, served as the director of the Asian Studies Program as it began transforming itself, through various stages in the 1970s and 1980s, into the School of Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Studies in 1987. The East-West Center helped populate the ranks of graduate students in the Asia-Pacific areas, so much so that the “Sixties Alumni/ae” became a major quantitative and qualitative educational force in East-West relations. Many of its fellows became high officers of cultural, economic, political, and educational enterprises. Several became ministers of state. Colleagues in Korean history helped bolster an emphasis on Korean studies resulting in the building of a traditionally styled Korean Studies Center in the early 1970s. Research and programming followed. Southeast Asian colleagues helped make the University one of the NDEA and NDFL centers of studying the region in the country, a strength that continues to the present. John Stalker became the Hawaiʻi director of the Peace Corps training program in Hilo. Not all activities of note involving historians were Pacific and Asia in character. New College was founded as an educational alternative with Richard Rapson as its director.

Within the department, much attention was given the program in World Civilizations. A dozen history faculty members and some twenty graduate assistantships support this major undergraduate program. The large enrollment required for a time the use of Varsity Theatre venue for the lectures of Gavan Daws and James Connors. Back on campus, Walter Johnson, George Akita, and Daniel Kwok also lectured to the huge sections of this course, with Akita boasting lecturing in pidgin sometimes. Large numbers of M.A. degrees in history were conferred during the time when Hawaiʻi teachers needed the degrees for extra credit and when the East-West Center was still active in its student program, which decreased dramatically after the Center’s change of focus in the early 1970s. The history doctorates show a count in 2006 of 160 completions: 39 in Japanese and/or Northeast Asia history; 29 in Chinese, 12 in Korean, 17 in Southeast Asia; 10 in Indian, 28 in American; 14 in Pacific/Hawaiian; and 14 in European, World, and inter- area history.

The momentum of strategic growth brought to the department the John A. Burns Chair, a visiting professorship funded by the Hawaiʻi Legislature to honor the Pacific visions of its late governor. Its first occupant was the American historian Richard B. Morris in 1976 (bicentennial year of American independence) followed by Wang Gungwu in 1979, William H. McNeil 1980, Gregory M. Denning 1981, Eto Shinkichi 1982, Marius B. Jansen 1983, Johannes de Casparis 1984, Kenneth S. Inglis 1985, Kwang-ching Liu 1985, Donald W. Treadgold 1986, Philip D. Curtin 1988, Akira Iriye 1989, Alfred W. Crosby 1991-92, Gary R. Hess 1993, Tetsuo Najita 1994, Marc R. Peattie 1995, Cho-yun Hsu 1996, Anthony Reid 1996, Albert Craig 1997, Reynaldo Ileto 1997, Margaret Jolly 1998, Sumit Sarkar 2000, and Peter Duus 2001.

Grand Tea Master Soshitsu Sen XV endowed a chair in Japanese history and culture in the department, with H. Paul Varley occupying it first in a visiting capacity and then permanently in 1994 until his retirement in 2004. The chair’s second occupant is William W. Farris, coming to the department in 2004 from the University of Tennessee. The Johnson Hung family of Taiwan established a fellowship in Chinese intellectual history in the late 1980s.

The 1980s to Present

By the mid-1980s, the department discussed new curricular horizons, mindful of trends and themes of global history and globalization. World History became a Ph.D. field in 1986. At the same time, collegial efforts began at this time and succeeded in establishing the Journal of World History in 1990 and published by the University of Hawaiʻi Press with Jerry Bentley the founding editor, and Elton Daniel and Daniel Kwok editorial board members. The journal’s current book review editor is Herbert F. Ziegler. A new series of monographs in world history, Perspectives on the Global Past, was soon announced by the Press. The department became the headquarters of the World History Association and founded its own Center for World History as the twenty-first century began. In World History, with the active participation of at least a dozen colleagues in encouraging comparative studies and scholarship on global themes, the department leads the nation in all aspects of curriculum, organization, and articulation, gaining international stature as well.[3] As a result, the department changed its undergraduate designation of World Civilizations to World History, well ahead of the University changing and reallocating the role of the former World Civilizations as a university-wide requirement. This world emphasis shows a timely contextual enhancement of other histories, offerings of which remain varied, challenging, and attractive.

Lest the impression is one of unmitigated growth, one must mention the turn-about in the early 1970s with successive retrenchments in University resources affecting departmental growth. Economic factors and the Oliver Lee tenure case, which tested the University’s stance on academic freedom and ended the presidency of Thomas Hamilton,[4] contributed to public questioning and reluctant funding of the University.

University requests at the Legislature became more difficult by the year. Faculty retrenchment saw History losing a number of promising and newly hired colleagues. The department position counts began to drop from thirty-nine to twenty-eight at present.

The faculty who stayed the course worked hard and imaginatively to make their respective fields relevant to the department, the university, and beyond. Individual research of national and international import increased. Japanese studies colleagues helped elevate the Japan field to such a degree that it was recognized by the Japanese government in 1972 with a million dollar endowment as well imperial decorations for Professors Sakai and Varley. China’s State Commission on Education appointed Daniel Kwok honorary professor to its Committee on Humanities Research. Professor Sakai served the Graduate Division and retired as dean of the Summer Session. In 1974, a colleague founded and oversaw a year-long fellowships program for U.S. and Asian journalists to study Asia, languages, the social sciences and humanities that lasted until 2001, gaining national and international note.

V. Dixon Morris, Philip F. Rehbock, Karen Jolly have served as University Marshals. In chronological order, the Centers of Chinese Studies, Japanese Studies, and Pacific Islands Studies tapped Daniel Kwok, Sharon Minichiello, and David Hanlon as directors. Daniel Kwok and Jerry Bentley were elected to national committee memberships of the American Historical Association. In 2005-06, Adjunct Professor Barbara Andaya was elected president of the Association of Asian Studies.

Colleagues have been mainstays in the programs of the Hawaiʻi Council on the Humanities (“History Day,” for instance) and in the state-wide history honor society Phi Alpha Theta with Robert McGlone as its main organizer. Other community organizations such as the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the English Speaking Union, Japan-America Society, Hawaiian Historical Society, Model Cities project, Korean and Okinawan community associations, Caledonian Society, Hawaiʻi labor groups, Judicial Selection Commission, Filipino Historical Association, Chinese Historical Society, Social Science Association of Hawaiʻi, to name but a few, welcomed various services of historians from Mānoa. Since 1974, a historian has convened the China Seminar, a community-university luncheon-lecture program for public discourse.

Nine historians have won the Regents’ Medal for Teaching: Gavan Daws 1965, George Akita 1973, V. Dixon Morris 1980, Donald Raleigh 1984, James Connors 1986, Sharon Minichiello 1988, Karen Jolly 1999, Mimi Henrikson 2000, David Hanlon 2001. Four historians have been awarded the President’s Citation for Meritorious Teaching: Jerry Bentley 1987, Daniel Kwok 1988, David Hanlon 1989, Robert McGlone 1991. The Regents’ Medal for Research, rarely awarded outside of the “hard” disciplines, was given to Michael Speidel in 1995 for his work on the Roman army. The 1984 Robert W. Clopton Award for Outstanding Community Service went to James M. McCutcheon.

When the College of Arts and Sciences was split in 1981 into four components, History chose to be in the College of Arts and Humanities and provided historian Rex Wade as its first dean. The department naturally debated between Social Science and Humanities. In the end, it chose understanding that while it can always acquaint Clio with the new sciences of society, it would be a different matter altogether to abandon history’s original inspiring muse.

D.W.Y. Kwok
Summer, 2006

Download a PDF version of the above text, which contains accompanying appendices.

[1] Because of the scope and nature of this account, which favors curricular and service aspects of the department, individual research projects and publications of historians are not treated in the main narrative but are appended. Dates of joining the faculty are given.
[2] An undated note from Mehnert bidding farewell to “friends” can be seen in the President’s folder at the University Archives, box #36/218.
[3] See full-page coverage by Guangming ribao (Guangming Daily), March 18, 2006, p. 6 of aspects of World History in which Jerry Bentley and Ralph Croizier of University of Victoria were the invited speakers. See also the popular textbook, Traditions and Encounters by Jerry Bentley and Herbert Ziegler now in its third edition.
[4] See Malamalama by Kamins and Potter, 94-101.