24th Biennial Conference
1 - 4 December 2020
The University of the South Pacific
Theme: In Their Own Words
‘Oral traditions contain a close approximation of the past as lived, experienced and understood in the people’s own words long before the coming of the Europeans to our shores,’ wrote the late i-Kiribati historian, Kambati Uriam, in his 1995 monograph, In Their Own Words. The title and sentiments of his work provide the inspiration for the 2020 Pacific History Association conference, creating a link to discussions in the 1985 and 2008 Suva conferences and pointing to the future of Pacific history scholarship.
When the Pacific History Association met in Suva in 1985, the cultural context of discussions among Pacific Island intellectuals was set largely against Western frameworks. The outcome of the conference was clear, ‘Pacific Islanders should be the ultimate intellectual arbiters of Pacific History’. A precondition for this is that Pacific Islanders should engage by recreating Pacific history ‘in their own words’.
The core question posed at the 2008 Suva conference was ‘Who are we and what are we doing here?’ While the number of indigenous Pacific historians has steadily grown with each PHA wave in the Pacific, the texts and contexts of scholarship have remained largely foreign and distant, and remains a contested platform by those studying and living in Le Pasefika.
Strategically, the Pacific is at the centre of global debates on climate change and sustainable development, and there has been a resurgence in historical indigenous knowledge as a solution to contemporary challenges in our societies. How can history become more visible and more audible as a strong voice in public discourse on the environment, traditional knowledge, faith, migration, health and education? The 2020 PHA is an opportunity for scholars, for historians in particular, both from the Islands and beyond, to reimagine, resource and reshape our region’s past, present and future.