Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Halena Kapuni-Reynolds

Hello DU grad students! Happy week 3! We’re excited to bring you the second installment of Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field, a blog series featuring the research of current and former DU graduate students. This month we’re featuring Halena Kapuni-Reynolds, a DU alumnus and current PhD student at the University of Hawaii. While at DU he explored the curation of aliʻi collections (objects that were once owned or made by Hawai’i’s chiefly class). Be sure to check out his research advice at the bottom of the post!

Halena-Graduate-CitingsResearcher: Halena Kapuni-Reynolds, DU alumnus from the Anthropology Department’s Museum and Heritage Studies program. Most recently, he was admitted to the University of Hawai’i at Manoa’s American Studies PhD program.

Current Research: In the fall of 2015, I successfully defended my thesis entitled “Curating Ali’i collections: Responsibility, Sensibility, and Contextualization within Hawai’i-based Museums.” This thesis was the culmination of two years of Master’s-level research that focused on how Ali’i collections –that is, objects that were once owned or made by Hawai’i’s chiefly class– are cared for and exhibited at two museums in Hawai’i: The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum on the Island of O’ahu and the Lyman House Memorial Museum on the Island of Hawai’i. During my fieldwork, I interviewed native Hawaiian and local collections managers at both institutions, and conducted an extensive analysis of the exhibits that showcase ali’i things.

What this research revealed was a confluence of both professional museums’ practices and Native Hawaiian cultural sensibilities and metaphors regarding ways of culturally, spiritually, and physically caring for these museum collections. I coined the term cultural contextualization to refer to this process of adapting and transforming museum practices. Cultural contextualization draws from appropriate museology theory, which is an emerging museum theory developed by my thesis advisor Dr. Christina Kreps. Ultimately, I argue that cultural contextualization can lead to the recognition and privileging of indigenous knowledge systems in the care of indigenous collections within museums.

Currently, I am interning at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where I am conducting much needed research on their Oceanic Collection. The ultimate goal of my internship is to produce a catalog that provides a critical overview of the Oceanic Collection, which will be available for free through the museum’s internal publication, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science Annals.

Collaborators: For my thesis, my primary advisor was Dr. Christina Kreps. However, I also discussed my ideas and theories with Dr. Richard Clemmer-Smith and Dr. Bonnie Clark. During Dr. Clark’s Cultural Narratives class I had the opportunity to write an epilogue to my thesis, which comprised of an oli, a Native Hawaiian chant. This epilogue allowed me the opportunity to capture my research in a poetical manner.

Initial Inspiration: My interest in this project stemmed from my experiences as an undergraduate at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo. While there, I became interested in museums and the thousands of native Hawaiian things that are curated within them. I also wanted to address how many native Hawaiians still consider museums to be foreign places, even within their own islands. Thus, I wondered how museums have/have not worked towards collaborating with and reaching out to their native Hawaiian constituents, and how native Hawaiian presences in museums have transformed the profession.

Biggest Challenge: My biggest challenge for this research was the actual write-up. Sure it’s one thing to collect the information that you need from informants, books, and journal articles, but it’s another thing to actually formulate paragraphs and analytically robust analyses. Since this was the first time that I wrote something of this scale, there was a lot of writing and rewriting involved. Countless paragraphs were written and later scrapped. and I spent hours trying to conceptualize my research in an academic manner. In the end though, it was worth it. Writing a thesis improved my writing and analytical skills, and taught me to be bold, brave, and creative. The result is a thesis that blends academic writing with Native Hawaiian rhetorical strategies, a reflection of my own identity as a Native Hawaiian of mixed heritage.

Research Advice:

  1. Present at local/regional conferences. If you are new to this professional aspect of academic work, consider presenting at the DU Graduate Research and Performance Summit. It is a yearly conference where you, DU graduate students, can present your ideas either as a paper, presentation, or any other experimental format. Talking about your research to others is important for gaining feedback, especially on viewpoints that you may have not considered while writing. Did I mention that it looks good on your CV?
  2. When you get to the point of ordering hard copies of your thesis, it is cheaper to go through the DU bookstore and Grad Studies rather than ProQuest. Generally, ProQuest copies are poor quality. If you go through the bookstore, you can ensure your thesis copies have colored photos!

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