Hawaiian Historical Society Has Preserved the Islands’ Past for 130 Years

Located at the Mission Houses, the collection includes 12,000 books and pamphlets as well as manuscripts, photographs and art.
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Bishop Museum staff are given a tour of the Hawaiian Historical Society’s archive. Below is one selection from the society’s collection: an invitation, envelope and “Carte de Danse” (dance card) for the ‘Iolani Palace Ball on Sept. 30, at 9 o’clock, circa 1870 to 1890. | Photo: courtesy of Hawaiian Historical Society

The Hawaiian Historical Society, founded in 1892, is one of the Islands’ oldest nonprofits and an early benefactor was Queen Lili‘uokalani, who believed in the importance of preserving the history of Hawai‘i.

The society is well known today for the books it publishes in English and Hawaiian and for its annual publication, The Hawaiian Journal of History, a peer-reviewed academic journal that focuses on the history of Hawaiians and other cultures here, both pre- and post-contact.

“We’re here to provide a platform for scholars to share their knowledge with the larger community,” says Cynthia Engle, executive director of the society.

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Photo: courtesy of Hawaiian Historical Society

Through its Hawaiian Language Reprint Series, the society publishes out-of-print books and other works in ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i. And its library and archives, located at the Hawaiian Mission Houses in Honolulu, has over 12,000 volumes of books and pamphlets as well as manuscripts, unpublished documents, photographs, historical objects and works of art.

“Our scope starts by looking at collecting the work of Hawai‘i and the Pacific from the 1800s to the present day. We are still actively collecting as well and trying to document that history,” Engle says.

“It’s supporting people with primary sources that allow their endeavors to come to fruition. When I can connect them to a source, it really brings our mission to light.”

“You get chicken skin moments when somebody’s looking at general photographs of people from the 1930s and they go: ‘Oh, that’s my auntie!’ ” Engle says. “Helping someone tell their historical narrative is the power of our organization.”

Go to their research page to view the online catalog or make an appointment to visit in person.

“When you think of a library and archives, you think of things as very static and set in its ways. One of the beauties of our society is that we’re open to flexibility, adapting and creative ways of moving forward.

“We preserve the past for our future.”



Categories: Arts & Culture, Nonprofit with a Mission, Nonprofits