Politics of Representation


The Politics of Representation:
Reflections on Controversial Issues in Museums and Related Places in Japan and Hawai‘i
This FREE, OPEN-TO-THE-PUBLIC two-day symposium and a keynote presentation brought together scholars, educators, and museum professionals from Japan and Hawai‘i to discuss the challenges of developing exhibits with controversial or highly sensitive content on historic events and related issues. Presenters reflected on their experiences working in museums, cultural centers, historic sites, and community festivals.  Each focused on a case study and provided a glimpse of how they researched and prepared an exhibit; consulted with scholars, teachers, education specialists, board members, staff, and community stakeholders; and made crucial decisions along the way.

The theme of the symposium highlighted the issue of representation and its politics, and considered some of the following questions:

  • How do you accurately and sensitively represent historic events and/or cultural practices from more than one perspective? 
  • What words and images should one use or avoid?  How do these words or images provide different ways of understanding an event or issue?
  • What civic responsibilities does an institution have to share little known information from one community group yet objectionable to another?
  • How do you prepare an institution’s staff to embrace uncomfortable issues?
  • How do you weigh the educational merit or ethical obligation of participating in these activities against the repercussions of bringing negative attention to an institution and jeopardizing its reputation, angering its membership, and/or risking future funding?

Exhibits and their auxiliary educational programs can offer compelling ways for students, teachers, and the general public to engage with highly sensitive content on such topics as lynching as exhibited in Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, in Atlanta, GA; and protests by Hawaiian citizens against the annexation of Hawai‘i by the United States in 1898 at the Bishop Museum’s Hawaiian Hall in Honolulu, HI.

The symposium organizers hope the symposium and keynote address provided opportunities for learning from the presenters and audience.  They look forward to creating a place for discussing issues that may have been too “hot” for museums, classrooms, and other public places in the past but are now crucial to learning about our histories and differences.

Download high-quality Symposium and Keynote flyer here

Program for Symposium and Keynote


Click to listen to Hawaii Public Radio’s The Conversation interview with Liz Ševčenko about The Politics of Representation 

Photos of these Events

Liz Sevcenko Photo Album HCH for Web

Friday, November 1, 2013, at Center for Korean Studies, University of Hawai‘i Mānoa

SESSION 1: Representing Difficult Issues: The Battle of Okinawa and the Bombing of Nagasaki
12 pm – 3 pm

  • Dennis Ogawa, moderator
  • Kaori Akiyama, Graduate University of Advanced Studies [SOKENDAI], Japan
  • Kosuke Harayama, National Museum of Japanese History, Japan
  • Shari Tamashiro, Kapi‘olani Community College
  • Shotaro Okuno, Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, Japan

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Keynote, at Atherton Hālau, Bishop Museum                                                                

Presentation: Sites of Conscience: Opening Dialogue on Contested Histories and Contemporary Issues
6 pm – 8 pm, Atherton Hālau, Bishop Museum

  • Speaker: Liz Ševčenko
    Director, Guantánamo Public Memory Project
    The Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University, New York, NY

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Saturday, November 2, 2013, at Center for Korean Studies, University of Hawai‘i Mānoa

SESSION 2: Depicting Japan and the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, and Presenting the Internment at Honouliuli
9 am – 11:30 am

  • Mari Matsuda, moderator
  • Eileen Martinez, World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (Pearl Harbor)
  • Yujin Yaguchi, University of Tokyo
  • Brian Niiya, Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project
  • Joyce Chinen, Center for Okinawan Studies, UH

SESSION 3: Rethinking the Representations of Historic Events at Bishop Museum, the Judiciary History Center, and ‘Iolani Palace
1:15 pm – 2:45 pm

  • Karen Kosasa, moderator
  • Noelle Kahanu, Bishop Museum
  • Matt Mattice, Judiciary History Center
  • Heather Diamond, ‘Iolani Palace

SESSION 4: Reflections on the Symposium: A Roundtable Discussion and Conversation with the Audience
3 pm – 4:30 pm

  • Yujin Yaguchi, moderator
  • Liz Ševčenko, Guantánamo Public Memory Project
  • Kosuke Harayama, National Museum of Japanese History, Japan
  • Karen Kosasa, Museum Studies, UH
  • Bob Buss, Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities
  • Robert Perkinson, Presidential Center Initiative, UH

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Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities
Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities
Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program and The University of Hawai‘i Presidential Center Initiative
Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program and The University of Hawai‘i Presidential Center Initiative
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies [SOKENDAI]
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies [SOKENDAI]


Contact: 808-469-4551