Categorized | Education

Native Hawaiian scholar awarded Allan Nevins Prize


Dr. Noelani Arista, University of Hawaii at Manoa Assistant Professor in History and 2008 Mellon-Hawaii Doctoral Fellow, has been awarded the prestigious Allan Nevins Prize by the Society of American Historians for the best-written doctoral dissertation on an American subject.

Noelani Arista

Arista’s dissertation, “Histories of Unequal Measure: Euro-American Encounters with Hawaiian Governance and Law 1793-1827,” focuses on the early connections between Hawaii and New England and addresses questions of law and jurisdiction in early 19th-century Hawaii.

As the prize-winning dissertation, this groundbreaking work will be considered by university presses for publication as a book.

“Arista has a capacious and original intellect, and a knack for seeing familiar sources and problems in wholly new ways,” said Dr. Jane Kamensky, professor of history and women and gender studies at Brandeis University and Arista’s mentor for the dissertation.

“Her stunning dissertation, ‘Histories of Unequal Measure,’ expands the boundaries of early American history, reaching into the Pacific, to London, and beyond. ‘Histories of Unequal Measure’ forces us to rethink the ways North American history and Hawaiian history have intersected with and shaped one another over time,” Kamensky said.

Kamensky compared Arista’s work to an earlier Nevins Prize winner, Willie Lee Rose, who won the prize in 1963.

“Rose’s pioneering ‘Rehearsal for Reconstruction’ brought African-American history into the mainstream of modern American thought. Her book was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Francis Parkman Prize when it was published in 1965. The Allan Nevins Prize launched Rose’s brilliant career, one of the most important of the 20th century. I expect we’ll say the same thing about Arista in the 21st century,” Kamensky said.

Arista received her doctorate in American History from Brandeis University in December 2009. She also holds a master’s degree in Religion from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she is now an assistant professor of American and Hawaiian History. Arista has extensive experience in both Hawaiian and English newspaper archives and is an experienced and published translator.

She was among the first cohort in Mellon-Hawaii Fellowship Program, which was established by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Kamehameha Schools, and The Kohala Center in the academic year 2008–2009. The Kahiau Foundation has joined in supporting the program for the academic year 2010–2011. The program supports Native Hawaiian scholars who are early in their academic careers and others who are committed to the advancement of scholarship on Hawaiian cultural and natural environments, Hawaiian history, politics, and society. It provides Fellows the opportunity to complete their dissertations or to publish original research.

“Thanks to the trustees of Kamehameha Schools and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and to Dr. Hamabata and the rest of the diligent staff at The Kohala Center, I was able to finish my dissertation in time in order to qualify for this prestigious national history prize,” Arista said. “This bodes very well for mainstreaming Hawaiian scholarship into broader fields and disciplines, like American History. It speaks volumes about the support that the Mellon-Hawaii Fellowship and The Kohala Center can provide in supporting up and coming scholars such as myself, who are seeking their education beyond our shores, and in disciplines that do not, at first glance, seem to support a space for Hawaiian scholarship!”

“Arista’s award is testament to the new fellowship program’s success,” said Matthews Hamabata, Ph.D., staff director of the Mellon-Hawaii Fellowship Program and executive director of The Kohala Center.

Robert Lindsey, Jr., chairman of the Fellowship’s Senior Advisory Board said, “The granting of the Allan Nevins History Prize for the best doctoral dissertation on an American subject validates our interest in supporting the development of intellectual leadership from Hawaii — for Hawaii and the world. It is extremely rewarding to see young Hawaiian thinkers and writers enliven the academy with the vitality of indigenous perspectives and indigenous scholarship.”

Arista was awarded the prize in a ceremony April 10 at the Organization of American Historians Conference in Washington D.C.

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