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  • Remembering Greg Dening
  • David Hanlon (bio)

Greg Dening, historian and ethnographer of Oceania, passed away on 13 March 2008 while on a visit to Tasmania. The effects of his scholarship on the histories and ethnographies of the region are profound. Many of us, however, grieve the loss of not only a world-renowned scholar but also a generous colleague, encouraging mentor, and close friend. Greg touched lives everywhere, including here in Hawai'i. We would like to think that Hawai'i was one of his special places. Donna Merwick, Greg's wife and an acclaimed historian of colonial New York, wrote in a recent letter that Honolulu was an intellectual home for him, "a place of stimulation, challenge, and always welcome" (see figure 1). After completing his doctoral studies at Harvard University in 1967 under Douglas Oliver, Greg took up his first academic appointment at the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa, where he taught for both the history and anthropology departments. Accounts of Greg's efforts to teach cultural history in Hawai'i can be found in his 1997 article, "Empowering Imaginations," for The Contemporary Pacific and also in his more recent book, Beach Crossings. He returned numerous times over the years, including a six-month visit as the John A Burns Distinguished Visiting Professor of History for the spring 1981 semester. Greg's support for The Contemporary Pacific was early and steadfast. He advocated for the journal's founding, wrote for its inaugural issue, served as a regular contributor and reviewer, and provided the words of endorsement that long graced our promotional brochure.

There already exist scholarly analyses of Greg's work; the years to come will undoubtedly witness the publication of many more. The essays presented in this collection are by those who encountered Greg either while he was at UH Mānoa or later, through Greg's connections with others here. They are written by Greg's peers and students, and offer varied reflections [End Page 299] over disciplinary and generational boundaries. They tell of common causes, collegial exchanges, scholarly guidance, and inspiration that could at times be spiritual. Ben Finney shares an early story about the professional intimidation that he and Greg were subjected to, for challenging the then-reigning belief that Polynesians could not have purposefully explored and settled the Pacific Islands. Marshall Sahlins writes of the adoption of Greg's "Melbourne Method" at the University of Chicago and of their mutually enriching conversations about Native and Stranger that hybridized their respective anthropologies.

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Figure 1.

Donna Merwick and Greg Dening during the "Challenges to Perform" seminar at the Australian National University, 2004. Photo by Greg Dvorak.

Greg's time in Hawai'i and the effects of his personal and intellectual presence on Pacific studies at Mānoa are the subject of David Hanlon's essay. Vince Diaz underscores the contribution of Greg's scholarship to the doing of Native histories; he recounts too the critical rigor and encouragement with which Greg read his soon-to-be published work on colonial-ism, Catholicism, and indigeneity in Guam. Greg's commitment to Native [End Page 300] scholarship and the efficacy of his "bound-together" history on the more recent Hawaiian past would have been the focus of Kanalu Young's writing; Kanalu emphasized the importance of Greg's work to the doing of Hawaiian history from his bed at the Queen's Hospital in early August 2008. Tragically, the deep sense of loss engendered by Greg's death here in Hawai'i has been compounded by Kanalu's own untimely passing.

In the latter years of his career, Greg emphasized the role of performance in the presentation of knowledge about the past; he exhorted his students to be bold, imaginative, and experimental in the histories that they crafted. Katerina Teaiwa and Greg Dvorak provide highly personal accounts of their participation in the "Challenges to Perform" seminar that Greg and Donna offered regularly through the Australian National University's Centre for Cross-Cultural Research. Teaiwa reflects on writing as an embodied process that proved particularly painful during the initial drafting of her dissertation; she found wonderfully liberating Greg's emphasis...


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pp. 299-301
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