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PACS 108: Pacific Worlds: Welcome!

An introduction to Pacific Studies


This guide is intended for undergraduates in Pacific Islands Studies and related courses. As of Fall 2020, all Pacific Islands Studies courses are being offered online owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, this guide focuses on online-available resources. A more comprehensive guide to online sources for Hawai'i and Pacific research can be found here:

Thinking About Keywords

Keywords are the terms that researchers use to run searches in databases. These terms distill your research question down to a few essential words. There are many ways to come up keywords -- when doing research that relates to the Pacific Islands, one potential strategy is to use one word that describes the subject of your research, and another word that identifies the place you are researching. For instance, if you just search for "education" in a library database, you will literally get a million results. But if you search "education" and "Samoa," you will narrow your results down to information that relates to education in Samoa. If, on the other hand, you are interested in education of Samoan youth in Hawaii, you might consider using three terms: "education," "Samoan," and "Hawaii." Ultimately, keyword searching involves a bit of skill, a bit of patience and a lot of trial and error -- but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. As a general rule of thumb, if you are getting too many results, this usually means you need to refine your search by coming up with additional keywords; if you are getting too few results, you are either using too many keywords, or need to come up with different terms. This website includes some excellent advice on how to brainstorm keywords.

Thinking Critically About Perspective

For any given research topic, there are numerous potential sources of information. When evaluating the quality of different types of resources, think about the different perspectives, voices and types of resources you could include in your final research project. This will help to determine the level of analysis and depth of understanding you could expect to achieve in relation to your selected topic. Thinking on this level will help you to generate more texture in your project too — combining different perspectives, voices, and types of material (including images, information from academic, journalistic, and other literary sources), will make your project more interesting for you and your audience. These questions may help you to identify different perspectives and voices:

1. Who is the author? What is her or his point of view? Why do you trust or distrust this point of view?

2. In your sources, where are the indigenous voices?

3. Where are the voices of scholars and other analysts?

4. Often information on a topic is a conversation of many voices — who are the various voices speaking on your topic? Are they all represented in your sources of information?

The Publication Cycle

In most academic fields, including Pacific Islands Studies, there is a fairly standard "publication cycle" when it comes to how information is produced about any given topic. This cycle determines what types of resources might be available for any given subject ... basically speaking, the longer researchers have been aware of a given topic, the more variety of resources (books, journal articles, films, etc.) there will be available; the newer a topic is, the less variety. (Whether a particular research topic has more or less information available does make it a "good" or "bad" topic -- it only means that different topics generate different types of information resources.)

In general, it looks something like this:

Topics that relate to current events (or those that have recently happened) typically have fewer types of "resources" available. Writing about these types of events is generally found in newspapers and "popular press" magazines; in government reports or publications produced by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or on websites or social media created by individuals. Videos or audio recordings, if available, are usually on Internet-based sites like Youtube or Vimeo, or on social media (Facebook etc.) Most of these types of resources are referred to as "primary source" materials . So for a topic like "COVID-19 in the Pacific," the majority of the information would be of this primary source type.

As a topic becomes more known and academics start to research it, journal articles are published and dissertations are written -- these types of resources take much longer to research, write and get published, so they typically don't appear for at least a couple years after the emergence of a research topic. Documentary films may also be produced. All of these types of resources are a mix of primary and "secondary" resources. A topic like "The movement to protect Mauna Kea" would be an example of something that has been around long enough to have become the subject of journal articles, dissertations and documentary films.

The final step in the publication cycle is the production of longer-forms of research: Mainly books, but also things like documentary or feature films. These are the types of resources that tend to take the longest to produce. A topic like "the revival of traditional voyaging techniques" would be an example of a topic that has been around long enough to generate a wide array of resources.



Evaluating Websites