Benchmarking History Programs: University of Hawaii

Robert Kajiwara is a PhD in History student at Liberty University. He has an MA in History from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and a BA in History, Asia/Pacific focus, from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

This article was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD in History at Liberty University.

Benchmarking History Programs:

The University of Hawaii at Manoa v. UCLA

This article will provide a brief overview of the benchmarks and educational practices of the history department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) as well as a comparative analysis with its cross-ocean rival, UCLA. The purpose of this short analysis is to gain better insight into history education at the university level, and UHM, being the only R1 university in the South Pacific Ocean, provides an interesting model to evaluate how effective universities are at teaching non-Western histories, which is something that the American Historical Society has stated should be improved.1 UCLA consistently ranks as one of the top universities in the world, while the University of Hawaii history department prides itself on being strong in the teaching of Asian and Pacific Island histories, in addition to American and European history.2

The Department of History at UHM uses as its motto the Hawaiian saying, I ka wa ma mua, ka wa ma hope; “The future is guided by the past.” The department offers a BA in History, with focuses in American, European, Asia/Pacific, and Comparative/World history, respectively. Regardless of ones chosen focus, a variety of history courses for each area are required for a major. At the undergraduate level there are four Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) that the department sets: 1) Students can explain historical change and continuity, 2) Students can write clear expository prose and orally present their ideas according to disciplinary conventions, 3) Students can identify, interpret and evaluate primary sources and other relevant information, 4) Students can identify the main historiographical issues in a specific area of concentration.3 The SLOs are scheduled in such a way as to allow an introduction to non-majors, some practice to minors, and mastery to majors. A historiography as well as a thesis course are required for majors.

While the department, as well as the university as a whole, has made some progress in moving away from a Western-dominated focus of study in its programs, there remains more to be desired. The majority of the faculty in the history department are not Hawaiian, and do not have local ties to the Hawaiian Islands. An introductory Hawaiian Studies course is required for all degrees offered in the UH system, though it should be noted that this course is offered not through the history department, but through the School of Hawaiian Knowledge, a separate school that was formed specifically to advance the teaching of Hawaiian issues as a result of decades of efforts by Hawaiian educators and community leaders.

The School of Hawaiian Knowledge remains something of a separate entity of the University of Hawaii in spirit. The physical location of the School is somewhat removed from the main campus of the University, several blocks away – a reminder that the School was a distant afterthought for the University. Even more importantly, the values of the University sometimes conflict with the values of the School, such as in the case of the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea, a move which the School of Hawaiian Knowledge, as well as Hawaiians in general, have condemned. The leaders of the University of Hawaii, including President David Lassner, claim to support Hawaiian rights and issues, yet are the chief proponents of the TMT project and have drawn intense criticism from the Hawaiian community at large, including from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. This notable discrepancy between what the University claims its values are, versus what they are in practice, is as stark as the contrast between the University administration and the School of Hawaiian Knowledge.

UCLA requires a similar variety of history courses for its majors compared with UH, requiring two American history courses, two European history courses, and two non-Western history courses. UCLA offers a larger variety of courses than UHM, as well as course-field emphasis in the fields of Atlantic history (between the Americas, Europe, and Africa), and Women, Men, and Sexual history. In terms of Asian histories, UCLA is roughly on-par with UHM. Regarding overall course diversity, the undergraduate history program at UCLA is comparable to that of UHM, which is to say it has some amount of non-Western course offerings, though is still heavily focused on European and U.S. histories. The principle difference is that UHM is based in the Pacific, while UCLA is based in California. UHM should be expected to have a wider array of Asia and Pacific histories due to its geographical location, as well as due to the majority-Asian population of its region.

Though UCLA is by far the larger, more reputable and well-known university, when it comes to Pacific Island studies, UHM offers more specialization at the undergraduate level. Nevertheless UHM has a long way to go before it can truly claim to be a university that represents the people of the Hawaiian Islands and Hawaiian issues. It is necessary for UHM to hire more faculty and administrators who understand Hawaiian issues in order for the institution to live up to its claims and ideals.


American Historical Society. “History in the Colleges.” Retrieved 22 October 2019 from:

Lukacs, John. The Future of History. Yale University Press. 2011.

UCLA College of Social Sciences History. Retrieved 22 October 2019 from:

University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of History.

“Home Page.” Retrieved 22 October 2019 from:

“Undergraduate SLO’s.” 28 September 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2019 from:

2University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of History. “Home Page.” Retrieved 22 October 2019 from:

3University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of History. 28 September 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2019 from:

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