While “enormous” work has already been done in the study of the history of the Marianas, there are blanks that need to be filled in to find answers and address gaps in historical records-a critical task that could only be accomplished if there is sharing of available materials and resources, said Fr. Francis X. Hezel.
Hezel called on scholars Thursday to “stop thinking individually” and start collaborating more closely to achieve the ambitious goal of offering people a deeper understanding of their past during day one of the 1st Marianas History Conference at the Fiesta Resort & Spa in Garapan.
Close to 200 history and humanities enthusiasts from the CNMI, Guam, and other parts of the world converged at the conference-the first of its kind-sponsored by the Guam Preservation Trust, Guampedia.com, Tan Siu Lin Foundation, Northern Marianas College, and the Northern Marianas Humanities Council.
The theme for the three-day conference is “One Archipelago, Many Stories.”
Hezel, in his keynote address, said that filling in the blanks is only the beginning of the process of constructing a “richer and deeper picture” in the study of history, which he said is akin to the quilt making process-having some work on making “splendid, single patches” while others take these patches and stitch them together into a quilt.
“The result is what you call history,” said the Jesuit priest. “It has a functional purpose. It comforts us and it's beautiful.”
Hezel noted, however, that the process is not a one-person job as history is a composite of many different perspectives.
He emphasized that history is a public project. “It belongs to all of us,” said Hezel. “History is supposed to give people a deeper understanding of themselves-nothing else. And in finding our roots, we discover ourselves.”
According to him, the process of the study of history ends up with a great work or product such as textbooks and other forms put together in an “attractive and appealing” manner to help people understand and enjoy history such as presentations, films, and diorama.
Thursday's participants were welcomed by representatives of the various conference sponsors. David J. Attao, NMC dean of Administration, said the conference brought together various scholars from around the world, in hopes of a “unified” study of the Marianas history, as reflected by the conference theme.
“I am very confident that all of you will have something meaningful to gain in the next few days and your curiosity and thirst for knowledge will be heightened,” he added.
Guampedia managing director Rita Nauta said they support the preservation of the Marianas Islands' rich stories by providing access to these stories through the worldwide Web and leading young students onto the path to seek out their cultural identity.
Nauta added that Guampedia looks forward to the unification efforts of the Marianas Islands through its shared histories and the publication of the conference's proceedings to allow people from different parts of the world access to the information shared at the event.
Dr. Robert Underwood served as the second keynote speaker. In his presentation titled “Leapfrogging through History: Hayi Mañaina-mu?” the University of Guam president discussed how history is “literally present” in a person's day-to-day life-from chants and dialogues to songs and dances-which are created and passed along as traditions.
The second and last days of the conference feature posters and presentations ranging in different topics from several history scholars. Local works of art are also being sold at the venue.