The Politics of Remembering: Notes on a Pacific Conference

Essay Excerpt

In line with these premises, anthropology becomes social history, the rendering of a more enduring accounting of past events and practices. On the one hand, these understandings may legitimize the work of anthropologists with other research agendas. However, such understandings may also lead to other, less comfortable propositions such as "Researchers take (even 'steal') valuable resources without giving anything back," or "We provide the culture and researchers make money and careers." If one listens closely to the voices raised in the "Pacific Recollections" conference, one may hear an uncanny resemblance between these propositions and the veterans' claims that "We sacrificed and suffered for the war and received almost nothing in return," and "They couldn't have won the war without us."

For myself and other researchers involved in this event, the payoffs involved not only the good stories we anticipated, but a sense of having stepped outside the scripted patterns of academic discourse and listened to some of the things the subjects of that discourse have to say when they take part in composing the script. (White, 202)

About the Author

Geoffrey White is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. His research interests include: The politics and ideology of culture; historical discourse; war memory; culture, self, and emotion; ethnographic methods; Pacific Island societies; America.

"My teaching includes graduate and undergraduate courses focused on anthropological and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of public culture, particularly in areas critical to the formation of identity and subjectivity ("History and Memory," Culture, Identity, and Emotion" and "The Anthropology of Tourism"). I also teach courses on ethnographic methods and Pacific Islands societies. 

In addition to ongoing work in Santa Isabel, Solomon Islands on topics related to colonial history, cultural policy, and globalization, I have been working on Pacific and American war memory, with particular interest in Pearl Harbor as a site of historical imagination and national identity formation. With initial support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation I have been doing ethnographic research at the USS Arizona Memorial, carried out in cooperation with the National Park Service who operate the Memorial.I am currently a member of the Board of Directors for Pacific Historic Parks, a nonprofit organization working with the National Park Service overseeing Pacific War historic sites and memorials. Working with these organizations I've assisted with the development of educational programs concerned broadly with teaching about the Pacific War and the politics of war memory. By involving educators from Japan and Asia as well as the U.S., these programs have provided a venue for international dialogue on the problems of remembering and representing past conflicts. From 2004 to 2010 I directed or co-directed a series of summer workshops supported with grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Freeman Foundation, most recently "History and Commemoration: Legacies of the Pacific War" hosted at the East West Center, July 25 - 30 and August 1 - 6, 2010."

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