The Romanzo Adams Social Research Laboratory collection comprises the research of scholars and graduate and undergraduate students from the University of Hawai‘i, collected from the late 1920s to the early 1970s. Originally known as the Social Research Laboratory, it was renamed for Romanzo Adams, a pioneering sociologist and demographer who taught at the University of Hawai‘i from 1920 to 1934.

About the Collection

The RASRL Collection was generated by the Sociology Department of the University of Hawai‘i. The Collection contains a wide variety of work, but the majority of the materials are papers written by undergraduate students enrolled in introductory and upper division sociology courses.  The students wrote traditional research papers, but they also turned in autobiographical narratives, family histories, and observational journals. Because the papers were collected and saved for so long, they provide insight into life in the Territory of Hawai‘i during crucial years of its development and growth. Although no accurate count has been taken, it is estimated that the Collection contains as many as 12,000 papers.

There is no indication as to why the papers were saved for so long.  It was not uncommon for sociology programs of the era to engage in the type of intensive community studies that are found in the RASRL Collection, but no other program or department collected, saved, and subsequently archived as many papers for as long as did the sociologists at the University of Hawai‘i.

About the Papers

The papers were written by undergraduates who came to the University with varying degrees of preparedness. Their writing style reflects their educational background, writing experience, and their fluency in standard English. The students wrote about a variety of topics, but the bulk of the papers are about their lives and observations of their communities and families. Assignments that seem prosaic – “My role in the family” – could produce interesting results. A description of family customs might segue into a discussion of family conflict over moribund gender roles. In some classes a student or team of students wrote a research paper based on a survey of a neighborhood or town. These surveys yielded detailed descriptions of everything from the occupations of residents to a list of all the businesses in a plantation town.   The length of the paper depended on the topic, but most were fewer than ten or fifteen pages. Many are handwritten and some were submitted with maps and charts that illustrate their research.

There is no surviving description of how (or why) the papers were collected or the methods by which they were categorized and saved. Based on evidence in the files, we know that the students were asked to create a carbon copy of their papers so that one could be returned with a grade and the other saved by the Department.  Some papers were transcribed, re-typed with identifying information removed.  At some point the papers were organized and filed with a code for gender and ethnicity – “jF” for Japanese Female or “phM” for Part-Hawaiian male.

About the Students

Attending the University of Hawai‘i was not necessarily limited to the privileged or wealthy. The papers in the RASRL Collection were written by young men and women who represented a cross-section of the population of the Territory.  They came from all socioeconomic classes and every ethnic group. There are, of course, many papers by Japanese Americans who were a plurality on the campus by the end of World War II.   Some communities are underrepresented, most notably Filipinos and Hawaiians.

Many families sacrificed in order to send children to college.  In some cases, older siblings supported a younger brother or sister, helping to pay their tuition and fees.  Many, if not most, students worked as well:  some women worked as maids or domestics in exchange for meals and a place to live. Others worked as bellboys, waitresses, or in the cannery during summer breaks.

The papers were written by a representative cross-section of the student body.  Although they were only assigned to students in sociology classes,  sociology courses could be taken to meet core requirements for graduation.  In addition to social science majors, some classes were required of students at the Teachers College or those majoring in Social Work.

About the Site

Local Citing continues work we began several years ago.  We created the website Local Sightings/Citings in 1998-99 as a demonstration project that focused on primary sources related to local history for use in the classroom.  The goal of that project was to promote teaching and learning through local history and culture.  That site can still be accessed via the Digital and Digitized Collection page of the University of Hawai‘i website.  It is no longer being actively maintained or updated, but it contains material and information beyond the scope of the RASRL Collection.  As the titles of both of these websites suggest, we are interested in the intersection between research and the day-to-day experience of local people.   Their observations (sightings) record a time in the past that scholars can now use to document (cite) and support their own research.

These posts are demonstration projects, a presentation of preliminary research on primary sources. We are both trained academics and so are familiar with the protocols of scholarly research and take seriously the responsibilities when presenting this type of information to the public. The information provided here is as accurate as possible. If something can’t be verified by a secondary source, we either leave it out or acknowledge the limitations of our own research.   These essays are not peer reviewed or in any other way vetted by other scholars. Scholars and students who wish to use these materials should take care to provide support for their work above and beyond what is presented here.

Researchers should also be aware of the University of Hawaii’s guidelines for using material from the RASRL Collection. Although most of the papers in the Collection are anonymous (redacted or turned in with no identifying information), the RASRL writers often discuss details that are sensitive or might have been embarrassing to family, friends, or their descendants. We avoid using names or other identifying information, but will provide enough information in the citation to allow researchers to find it in the Collection.

If you use this website, please cite it according to the appropriate style guide. (If you don’t have a style guide, Purdue OWL has a citation guide for MLA, APA, and Chicago Style.)

About us

Lori Pierce
There are many ways to describe people in Hawai‘i – malihini or kama‘aina; tourist or military; visitor or settler colonial.  None of these quite suit me. Because I’m African American, I’m mistaken for military; because I live on the continent, when I’m in Hawai‘i I’m a visitor.  Because I know this place well – or at least better than some – I might be a kind of kama‘aina by proxy.  Hawai‘i is a place that makes you crave belonging, but the space between insider and outsider is, for me, a creative one.

I’m an academic, an Associate Professor at DePaul University.  I earned my Ph.D. at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa where I began to learn about Hawai‘i by teaching local students.  I’ve spent the last two decades thinking, reading, and writing about the Territorial Era.  This period fascinates me, in part because it tends to get skipped over, a fly-over historical terrain that links the annexation to World War II.   On this site I explore some of the subjects that interest me most with an eye toward providing new perspectives on events during this Era.

Christine Kirk-Kuwaye
I suppose I have many of the necessary credentials to be a local Haole:  I arrived as a kid with parents who were not military, attended rural and urban public high schools, earned all my degrees from the University of Hawai‘i, married local guys, and have a part-Hawaiian daughter and a hapa (Japanese-Okinawan) son. I even managed to pass the written pidgin test in the ninth grade.  Does this make me a local Haole? I’m still not sure.

My academic interest in Hawai‘i history and culture took a more serious turn when I was making my way through the doctoral program in American Studies in the 1990s, but mostly was put on hold during my final working years as a faculty specialist at UH Mānoa.  Since my retirement in December 2012, I’ve returned to this area of study and have been reading and annotating student papers found in the RASRL Collection.

Contact either or both of us if you have questions about the site, about the documents, about RASRL, or anything we present here.  If there are mistakes – typos, incorrect dates, factual inaccuracies – please let us know.  We’d also like to hear from you if you have something to share or just want to (virtually) talk story.

Lori Pierce:  lpierce3@depaul.edu

Christine Kirk-Kuwaye:  kirkkuwaye.chris@gmail.com