Learning and sharing her own history

Janae Adolpho
Degree: BA in History, Honors College
Hometown: Two Rivers, Wis.
It’s a fact: Helping others with their research has made her a better researcher, she says.

Janae Adolpho hated history in high school.

“It was all memorizing facts and dates, and it always seemed to be the same five guys doing things,” she says. High school history, she explains often focuses on larger-than-life figures like Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, and rarely discusses the everday people and social movements.

Adolpho, an Honors College graduate who will receive her BA in History and plans to become a history professor, obviously changed her mind.

Taking a history course from Alan Singer in the Honors College helped give her a different view of the subject.

“High school history makes it seem like history is shaped by a small handful of people with lots of power, but in Alan Singer’s class we read the opposite – history from below. It was a small class, with 15 people, and we discussed and debated, and looked at different cultures.”

As her interest in looking at history from a wide variety of perspectives grew, she began to delve into the history of her own people. Although she grew up in Two Rivers, Wis., she is Native Hawaiian on her father’s side.

“I was amazed at how much of my own history and culture I didn’t have access to,” Adolpho says. Hawaiian history, like the histories of many indigenous colonized peoples, was written from the perspective of the white men who took over the islands that eventually became a state. “As a Native Hawaiian, I wanted to be part of the movement to share the true history.”

She began to do research on her own, comparing written history with oral traditions. “I’ve read the history books’ accounts of Hawaii becoming a state, but I get a different perspective from my grandfather’s stories.” Not every history book gets it wrong, she adds, but even sympathetic portrayals of the plight of Native Hawaiians give the view that the move toward colonization and annexation was “for the best.”

One of her papers, for Associate Professor Jasmine Alinder, focused on changing depictions of Native Hawaiian women. Initially, says Adolpho, the white missionaries arriving during the early 19th century wanted to diminish what they perceived as the excessive sexuality of indigenous women. Later, white businessmen and the descendants of the missionaries regarded Native Hawaiian women as hula-skirted assets in attracting tourism to the islands.

Adolpho’s part-time job, working in Special Collections at the UWM Libraries, has reinforced her academic work and her plans for the future.

“Students don’t realize what a treasure Special Collections is for doing original research, based on primary sources,” she says. By helping library patrons with their research, she’s learned more about how libraries are set up, and how information is organized. “That’s helping me get prepared for graduate school.”

The enthusiasm of her boss, Special Collections Librarian Max Yela, for academic research, learning and books also inspires her, she adds. “It’s like a graduate-level internship. I’ve learned a great deal about the collection, and he’s encouraged me to think critically about things.”

Yela is also open to ideas from students and staff members, says Adolpho. She’s talked to him about adding materials on Native Hawaiians to the area’s existing collections on indigenous peoples.

Adolpho has learned from the writings of Haunani Kay Trask, a Native Hawaiian who gives a different perspective on the state’s history, and wants to get her doctorate with a focus on Hawaiian history and teach at the college level.

“As a Native Hawaiian, I want to be part of the movement to set the record straight.”