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HIST288: Biography and Historiography in the Pacific

Resources and techniques for biographical research of Pacific peoples

Bibliographies, Biographical Dictionaries and Other Reference Sources

These sources are useful as a first step in identifying biographical writing. Note: Island Lives and the Historical Dictionary of Oceania are both currently available online; Who's Who in Asia and the Pacific is not available online.

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 In short, use Wikipedia as a very early step to help identify sources of information, but do not cite it as a source.

Using OneSearch to find Pacific Biographies

OneSearch is the University's "discovery layer," which allows you to search for a variety of materials simultaneously. It does not search through everything that you have access to as a UH-Manoa student, but it is a very good starting point. When doing biographical research, there are three basic steps you should take, which will help you to 1. find materials written by a person; 2. find materials written about a person; and 3. find material about the historical era during which a person lived. For each of the below searches, start in the "advanced search" mode of Onesearch (click here to go there):

  1. Finding material by the person (this includes autobiographies as well as any other writings a person did, which are useful in understanding the times in which the person lived). In advanced search mode, click on the box labelled "Any Field" and change to "Author/Creator."  You can leave all the other fields as they are, and then search for your person using their last name followed by their first name (for example, to find works by King David Kalakaua, search: Kalakaua, David). Note: If a person's last name is distinctive enough, you can often get away with using only that name ... for instance, in this example, searching Kalakaua will find all works authored by King David Kalakaua. Where a last name is more common, you will need to use both names (for instance, there are several writers with the last name Wendt ... if you're looking for information specific to Albert Wendt, you will need to use both names to avoid many "false hits.")

  2. Finding material about the person (this includes book-length biographies written by others, as well as some chapters in books or scholarly journal articles that include some information about the person). In advanced search mode, click on the box labelled "Any Field" and change to "Subject."  You can leave all the other fields as they are, and then search for your person using their last name followed by their first name, as in search number "1" above.

  3. Finding material about the period in which the person lived. In advanced search mode, leave the box labelled "Any Field" just as it is, and leave all other fields as they are as well. Then just type in the name of the person you're looking for (unlike numbers 1 and 2 above, the ordering of the name doesn't matter -- you can search either David Kalakaua or Kalakaua, David and will get the same results). This searches the entire "universe" of material that OneSearch looks at, for any mention of the person you're looking for. 

Google Books and Biographical Research

While OneSearch is a very useful search tool, it has certain limitations ... one of them is that in most cases it does not search the full-text of books -- often when researching the biographies of Pacific Islanders, you may find that while there are not full-length books about a person, they may well be mentioned in works that relate to the times they live in. In these cases, OneSearch might not find the book because it is not specifically (or substantially) about that individual. In these cases Google Books can be a useful tool: Because it searches the full text of many books (not all books, but many), Google Books goes deeper into the text of books than OneSearch does, and at times will find mentions of people that you wouldn't otherwise find. In most cases, Google Books does not allow you to read the text online; however, it does provide you with the title of the book and the page numbers a given name appears on -- with this information, you can then find the book in OneSearch -- in cases where an electronic version of the book is available, the library will probably have purchased access to it for you; otherwise, if the book is related to Hawaii or the Pacific, the library should own a physical copy of it.