Two UH Researchers Bid Farewell to Historic Center
Kevin Y. Kawamoto
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Kevin Kawamoto is a longtime contributor to The Hawai‘i Herald.
Their names have been synonymous with oral history research in Hawai‘i for decades. But when the fall 2017 semester begins at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa later this month, Dr. Warren Nishimoto and Michi Kodama-Nishimoto will have already quietly closed a nearly four-decade-long chapter in their lives as director and research associate, respectively, of the Center for Oral History.
In 1979, Chad Taniguchi, then-director of the Ethnic Studies Oral History Project, as it was known back then, hired Warren and Michi (who are referred to by their first names in this story to avoid confusion). Both were interested in the oral history interviewer position that they had seen advertised. Only one position was available, however. Taniguchi liked both of them, Warren recalled, so he split the position in two and gave each of them half a position, which eventually evolved into full-time positions. Happily, they not only launched their careers as oral history researchers, but also found their future spouses through the project: each other! Warren and Michi were married in 1984 and have been working together as husband and wife ever since.
The Ethnic Studies Oral History Project was established in 1976 by the Hawai‘i state Legislature to preserve “the recollection of Hawai‘i’s people through oral interviews and disseminates oral history transcripts to researchers, students and the general community,” according to the center’s website. Taniguchi was the project’s founding director and spent the early years lobbying the Legislature each session to renew funding until 1983, when more stable funding was established and the project found a longtime home within the Social Science Research Institute in UH Mänoa’s College of Social Sciences. Warren became the director that year and the name of the project was changed briefly to the Oral History Project and then more permanently to the Center for Oral History, as it is now known. Even with more stable funding, the center still had to seek grants, donations and other forms of support, such as partnerships, to keep its work thriving over the years.
The oral history interviewer position that Warren and Michi applied for involved conducting life history interviews with working-class people in Hawai‘i. The idea was to collect these stories and make them available as another source of information to learn about Hawai‘i’s history. It was an alternative to having someone who was not from Hawai‘i come to the Islands and tell its history from an outsider’s perspective, relying on written documents and elite cultural informants, as most conventional histories tend to do.
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