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Monday, April 21, 2014

First Marianas-wide history conference in the offing

At least 50 individual presentations and papers covering ancient through recent history of the Marianas archipelago will be discussed in the first Marianas History Conference on Saipan next month.

All presentations and papers are grouped into chronological sequence and will be published in the proceedings, according to NMI Humanities Council executive director Scott Russell.

The Marianas History Conference, which will be held from June 14 to 16 at the Fiesta Resort & Spa in Garapan, is sponsored by the NMI Humanities Council, the Guam Preservation Trust, and Guampedia, the online encyclopedia about Guam, its people, and its culture.

The conference will feature topics associated with the archipelago’s history under ancient history, early colonial history or 17th to 18th centuries, late colonial history or the 19th to 20th centuries, World War II, recent or post-war history, and oral history and genealogical research.

With its theme “One Archipelago, Many Stories,” the conference aims to reunify the history of the Marianas, which has become unconnected due to the islands’ political division, Russell said yesterday.

“We are bringing together for the first time a large group of scholars who are specializing in Marianas history and this is going to be the first of its kind event and it’s going to give people who have an interest in local history an excellent opportunity to hear some of the most recent scholarship on a variety of topics,” he told Saipan Tribune.

According to Russell, indigenous participation in the study of history is lacking so the conference hopes to encourage more of that. “It’s a perspective that’s largely been absent from the historical discourse over the years and it’s something that we’d like to see how we can improve that,” he said.

Russell said the first day of the Marianas History Conference will have a roundtable on the administration of public history, which seeks to gather organizations that use public funding to support historical research. These groups include the Humanities Council, Historic Preservation Office, CNMI and Guam Archives, Micronesian Research Center, and various libraries.

He said the conference will feature two keynote speakers, Fr. Fran Hezel, S.J. and Dr. Robert Underwood.

Hezel, who is now based in New York, came to Micronesia in the ’60s and resided here for 40 years. He was a pioneering historian on Micronesian topics over the years and established the Micronesian Seminar in Pohnpei, which has a very large collection of resource materials relating to history and culture of the area.

Underwood is the president of the University of Guam “but he’s also a historian and an academician who always has a very interesting perspective on topics.”

Russell noted that they will have one featured presenter, Pale Eric Forbes, who will be discussing “Migration of Chamorros from Guam to Saipan in the late 1800s,” which Russell described as “quite interesting” as not many people know about this topic.

The conference, Russell said, will also put on display poster presentations as well as history books and document collections that the Humanities Council has sponsored. The materials will also be available for sale.

“It will be a chance for everybody who wants to build up their history library, to have access to pretty much all that’s available,” he said.

There will be a separate art exhibit, which will feature traditional artworks from the CNMI and Guam.

Custom or optional tours of archaeological and historic sites are also being planned for conference participants on June 17, the day after the conference. While organizers have yet to establish the specifics of these tours, Russell said that there will be an underwater tour of the World War II heritage trail, which will be guided by Dr. Jennifer McKinnon, one of the conference presenters.

The tours of archaeological and historical sites will be led by local guides and experts who can tell more about these places.

The conference will begin and end with a by-invitation ceremony for organizers, presenters, VIPs, and supporters of the humanities.

Russell noted that this will be the first conference of its kind and “hopefully the first of a series of possibly annual or biannual event” which they hope to conduct alternately between the CNMI and Guam.

Now that the conference program has been finalized, Russell said they will start publicizing the event widely. “We are doing pre-registration now for people who will be coming to the conference because we have limited seating.” An online registration site will also be set up.

Russell disclosed that they are already expecting “a large contingent” from Guam and, if the conference becomes an annual or biannual event, it would bring in more visitors to the Commonwealth.

“We certainly encourage anyone who has an interest in the history of the islands to attend,” he said.

For more information, call the Humanities Council at (670) 235-4785. For Guam residents, call program officer Rosanna P. Barcinas of Guam Preservation Trust at (671) 472-9439 or 40.

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