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HIST366: Women in Oceania: Welcome!

A guide to biography and historiography.


This guide was created for History 366, Women in Oceania, and focuses on biography and historiography resources. As the library is closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the emphasis is on electronically available resources. For a more complete guide to online resources related to Hawai'i and the Pacific, see also:

Instructional Videos

These videos are meant to help you get started with research for your class:

Video 1: Introduction to biographical research in the Hawaiian and Pacific Collections

Video 2: Basic research steps

Video 3: A few advanced research steps

Wikipedia and Biographical Research

Wikipedia can be a useful first step in identifying sources of information on a specific person but: You have to confirm the accuracy of Wikipedia entries using other sources. A good Wikipedia entry will cite its sources -- follow them to the original source to ensure it is "authoritative" (meaning, something worthy of citing in your paper). A bad Wikipedia entry -- and there are many of them when it comes to Pacific Islands topics--will not include its sources. In short, use Wikipedia as a very early step to help identify sources of information, but do not cite it as a source.

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 — which voices should be part of your conversation? Are they all represented in your sources of information?

Primary and Secondary Sources

Distinguishing between "primary" and "secondary" sources can initially be confusing, but there are some relatively straightforward ways to tell the difference (although it should be noted that there are always exceptions to these rules--when in doubt, ask your instructor ... or a librarian!):

Primary sources are first-hand accounts of an event or time period. They represent original thinking, reports on discoveries or events, or they can share new information. Often these sources are created at the time the events occurred. 

Secondary sources involve analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of primary sources, and are usually created some time after the events in question took place. They often attempt to describe, explain or distill primary sources of information.

Some examples of primary Hawai'i- and Pacific-related resources include:

  • diaries, correspondence, ships' logs

  • 18th and 19th century published voyaging accounts;

  • interviews, speeches, oral histories, autobiographies

  • government documents

  • creative art works, literature

  • newspaper articles and advertisements

  • photographs

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • textbooks

  • dictionaries and encyclopedias

  • biographies

  • scholarly writing (theses and dissertations, or journal articles

  • writing about literature, art works or music

Examples of sources that are sometimes primary source and sometimes secondary source materials:

  • Newspapers: An article published in 1893 regarding the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom is a primary source document (because it was written at the time the events it discusses were unfolding); an article published 50 years later, which is either written by someone who was witness to the events of 1893 or includes interviews with people who were there, is a also a primary source document (because it includes first-hand information, being published for the first time). An article on the same subject published in 2020 is a secondary source, which (if the author is a good historian) would rely on primary source documents to recreate the history of those events. For more on newspapers, click here.)
  • Early maps: Maps can sometimes be considered a primary source, in that they can document events as they were unfolding, in the same way a newspaper article can sometimes be a primary source. (For more on maps, click here.)