The Contemporary Pacific 15.1 (2003) 198-203
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Remembrance of Pacific Pasts: An Invitation to Remake History, edited by Robert Borofsky. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2000. ISBN cloth, 0-8248-2189-0; paper, 0-8248-2301-X; xvi + 557 pages, tables, figures, photographs, abbreviations and newspapers, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, US$56.00; paper, US$24.95.
The writing of history and of the ways the past transmits itself to the present is a dynamic process that necessitates every now and then some form of stocktaking about where we've come from, what we have achieved, where we are now, what problems we face, and where we could go. Pacific history has reached this point and the publication of this book is a timely call for all stakeholders to reinvigorate Pacific history with new approaches.
This landmark collection of twenty-four articles and ten creative pieces (most of them previously published), along with three new interviews, brings together some of the most prominent names in Pacific history, cultural anthropology, and literature in a courageous and highly credible attempt to broaden the scope and vision of Pacific history. This it does by formulating a number of responses to some of the most fundamental questions about history in this region. The following are a handful of such questions, which must form the basis of any teaching, learning, and researching in Pacific history: What, for instance, is Pacific history? How has the past been written or recorded in Pacific history? How should it be written or recorded? How does one frame a credible history from the myriad of documents, letters, journals, eyewitness accounts, legal papers, newspaper articles, church records, medical records, poems, paintings, artifacts, dances, songs, works of architecture, landscapes, and so on, that make up the entire Pacific history archive? What are the issues involved in the selection of such materials? Who can write Pacific history? Who has received primary attention in the writing of Pacific history? What makes some events and people of historic significance and not others? Why? How does the human body carry memory? How does a historian make his or her writing of history more inclusive, participatory, accessible, and useful to people in their contemporary realities? How much more reliable is the written archive than its oral counterpart? How legitimate is history told around the kava bowl? Must we necessarily define or position ourselves in terms of the dominant insider-outsider dichotomy that pervades and occasionally overshadows present debates about Pacific history? Are there more creative and productive ways of understanding Pacific history and our location in it? What of language issues? How do we convey or translate different realities across language?
An invitation to remake history in the Pacific is a noble but ambitious project. Fortunately, in his introduction, editor Robert Borofsky provides a very lucid account of the evolution of Pacific historiography, the major debates in contemporary Pacific history, and the contours of exciting new developments in the discipline. This introduction provides the solid framework on which the book's four broad sections are arranged. Section one [End Page 198] gives a context for understanding the volume and develops some of the frames of reference raised in the introduction. The other three sections follow the linear chronology from the dynamics of contact, through colonial engagements, and on to postcolonial politics. Each of the sections is prefaced by some excellent contextual notes by the editor, including an outline of the main arguments and debates, some first-rate footnotes directing readers to further specialized readings, and a few very useful discussion questions. Each section also includes a "View from Afar" in which some of the heavyweights of cultural and postcolonial studies (including James Clifford, Gyan Prakash, and Edward Said) offer excellent comparative perspectives and insights from their respective vantage points.
One of the most important points that the book makes is that writing history is a deeply political process. The past is not a virgin arena waiting for the historian's objective pen to bring it to life. Rather, it...