The Oriental Institute and Its Legacies

Shana Brown, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa

Shana Brown is associate professor and department chair of History at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. Her work traces the profound cultural and social changes experienced in 19th and 20th century China, centering in particular on the impact of key intellectual, artistic, and scientific trends. Her research has focused on the history of media and pictorial representation, using visual sources to explain the mental mapping of Chinese intellectuals and social activists more broadly. Her first book Pastimes (University of Hawai'i Press, 2011) examined the roots of modern Chinese historical research in art practice, identifying the linkages among several generations of collectors, calligraphers, and paleographers whose discoveries came to be considered the beginnings of modern academic historical research. More recently, her work explores how Chinese women played a large role in intellectual culture, as artists, writers, historians, and curators.


The study of Asian history, philosophy, literature, and language were included in the curriculum of the University of Hawai'i from its founding in 1920. In the half-century that followed, the institutional structure that shaped the teaching of Asian Studies evolved several times, reflecting internal priorities at UHM, the economic and social conditions of the state of Hawai`i, the geopolitical situation, and national trends. One of the most significant developments was the establishment in 1935 of the Oriental Institute, a project within UHM to foster graduate training and research in Asian humanities and social sciences. One of the first major research institutes outside of Asia devoted to Asian studies, the Oriental Institute brought to Hawai'i some of the most famous scholars of the early 20th century, including several distinguished Chinese scholars at the Academia Sinica and other leading institutions. While the Oriental Institute was ultimately short-lived, the blueprint it established for research-oriented Asian Studies continues to influence the field nationally as well as globally.