The mission of the Center for Pacific Islands Studies in School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa is to serve as both an academic department and a larger home for initiatives that bring together people and resources to promote an understanding of the Pacific Islands and issues of concern to Pacific Islanders. Its innovative instructional program is regional, comparative, and interdisciplinary in nature.
The center has humble beginnings that date back to 1950 when Hawai‘i was not a US state, and then the University of Hawai‘i was the College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts of the Territory of Hawai‘i. “Pacific Islands Studies” in this context was often limited to interests and projects in tropical agriculture among faculty and scientists of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. However, major events of global scale, such as the world wars, instigated shifts throughout the first half of the twentieth century that ultimately sparked a growing area-studies national trend. That trend began to lend increased attention to education, economy, society, technology, and many other topics.
The Pacific Subcommittee on Area Studies was formed in the late 1940s in response to the area studies trend. In January 1950, the subcommittee submitted a proposal for a “Center for Pacific Islands Studies” to house a Pacific Islands Studies Program (PIP) that would have research, service, and teaching as its core priorities.
Though PIP became institutionalized by being organizationally situated in the UH President’s office, it would be several decades before a full Center for Pacific Islands Studies would be realized. From 1950 to the late 1970s, PIP operated without any dedicated faculty, finances, or other resources. In 1978, Robert “Bob” Kiste became the first director of PIP. Kiste served at the helm of PIP, growing it into what is known today as the Center for Pacific Islands Studies. The center now has dedicated faculty and staff, undergraduate and graduate degree programs, a healthy publications operation, and strong regional collaborations.
The above historical narrative is paraphrased from Agnes Quigg, “History of the Pacific Islands Studies Program at the University of Hawaii: 1950-1986.”