Fall 2014 Featured Scholars

Faculty Spotlight: Professor Geoffrey White

Just as anthropologists travel, so careers in anthropology also travel. And mine, spanning more than three decades, has traveled from the island of Santa Isabel in the Solomon Islands (1975 to present) to Pearl Harbor (1994 to present) to France (2011 to present). And, not to be overlooked in this itinerary, I had an exciting tour of duty as chair of our department from January 2007 to July 2011.

The continuing thread in my journey has been an interest in memory and the cultural production of history. My first fieldwork focused on the stories Solomon Islanders tell about the arrival of Christianity and then shifted to island memories of World War II, pursued individually and through conferences and collaborations. In 2013 my work on Pacific War memory was recognized with a national award, the Solomon Islands Medal.

Living in Hawai‘i, my interest in World War II led me to Pearl Harbor, where I have been doing ethnography at the Arizona Memorial and serve on the Board of Directors of Pacific Historic Parks, working with the National Park Service to organize educational programs. A few years ago I began a new line of work on another icon of American memory of World War II, D-Day and the Battle of Normandy in France.

In addition to researching and publishing, I also develop programs to extend the reach of research among educators and interested communities. I was fortunate to spend the first half of my career at the East-West Center organizing collaborative projects and conferences to do just that. With the support of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, I have organized summer programs for college faculty on Pacific Studies (1991-2003) as well as programs for educators on teaching Pearl Harbor and the Pacific War (2004 – 2010).

Graduate Student Research Spotlight: Nanise Young Okotai

My research focuses on the nomination of Levuka, Fiji to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Levuka is a historical port town on the island of Ovalau that was a significant site in Fiji’s colonial past. Levuka was finally inscribed as a World Heritage site in June 2013, after a nomination process that lasted more than 20 years.

I am particularly interested in the interaction between international and national heritage-making programs and local ways of interpreting and understanding the past. For Fiji, as a ‘developing’ country, establishing World Heritage sites is part of an international prescription for development mandated by the United Nations and other international development organizations. I would like to understand how local people view and define Levuka’s heritage, how heritage in general is understood, and how local, national and international actors address different interests and claims related to Levuka’s heritage.

I also have genealogical ties to Levuka through my Fijian mother, making one of my overall objectives to enhance the empowerment of this island community by using anthropology to allow local voices to be heard. I hope my research can contribute to carefully and inclusively developing Levuka as a World Heritage site.

Undergraduate Student Research Spotlight: Tom McDonough

As an undergrad I was fortunate to work as an “Interpretation Ranger” at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey. It was my job to help visitors understand the historical significance of the place, while also connecting it to their own lives. Each day I learned how its relationship to the present constantly changes and takes on new meanings. Although National Historical Parks are museums, they can be exciting centers for learning, thinking and interacting with history. I have just accepted a position at the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington DC this summer and recommend anthropology and the National Park Service as ways to find opportunities for travel and work in interesting places.