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100 Years of Hidden Knowledge

June 19, 2017

A long-forgotten school on Kaho‘olawe and a hurricane on Hawai‘i Island waited in library archives to be rediscovered, hidden in 1.5 million pages of Hawai‘i’s news, opinion, weather  data, and culture.  This knowledge had been buried in plain sight—not buried in the ground like forgotten cities, but in a Hawaiian language that was once on the brink of disappearing. 

Between 1834 and 1948, more than a hundred Hawaiian-language newspapers reported the views and events of the day, recording a history that until recently remained in darkness.  What else don’t we know?

Turning the lights on

Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier wants to find out.  The director of the Institute of Hawaiian Language Research and Translation compares these newspapers to a five-story library, only recently uncovered.  In a 2012 presentation for TEDxManoa, he explained that we’ve only turned on the first-floor lights, with 80% of the newspapers left to be translated.  There is practically no field of study or topic of interest unaddressed by the still untranslated material. 

It’s a “historical treasury of local and international events, regional reporting, editorial and political essays, historical accounts, native and foreign literature, cultural descriptions and narratives, advertisements, and announcements that clarify business and government practice spanning the 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Shared wisdom as a team effort

With your help, the ongoing discovery continues, and because this knowledge was out of reach for so long, Nogelmeier says the IHLRT is “adamant that everything we generate is public, widespread, and easy to access.  The only hope of having it rearticulated is to make it widely accessible, an exciting glimpse into a place we have no imagination about.” 

The IHLRT provides a portal to Hawaiian language materials so that its benefits—commercial, educational, scientific, linguistic, or cultural—may be shared by all.

Interested in learning more?

Watch: Voice of the Sea: Translating Hawaiian Newspapers

In this episode, we learn about the translation of Hawaiian Language Newspapers from the 1800s and 1900s. The episode looks at the University of Hawai‘i Institute for Hawaiian Language Research and Translation with Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier and his team, who are working with the ‘Ike Wai project to better understand historic and cultural importance of freshwater resources in Hawai‘i. Find out more at

In his President’s Series talk “The Legacy of Hawaiian Literacy — Today?” Dr. Nogelmeier discusses his work mentoring and training translators to bring historical knowledge of Hawaii to modern audiences.

Questions? / More Information

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