Polynesia Studies - 3rd year

A survey of the social, political, and cultural history of the major island groups from Eastern and Western Polynesia. The course will examine the formation of the islands, the relationship of the natural environment to culture, the history of Polynesian navigation and the peopling of Polynesia, Western exploration and early commerce in the Pacific, and a comparative look at features of pre-contact Polynesian cultures such as lifestyle, religion, politics, art, and music. The course will address issues involving post-contact and de-colonization. Theoretical and experiential approaches will be included.


By the end of the course, the students will be able to:

1. Identify and explain the geography and natural environment of Polynesia and the relationship between the Polynesian lifestyle and physical features, flora, and fauna of the area;

2. Explain the history of hypotheses on the peopling of the Pacific and evaluate the evidence supporting them;

3. Explain the basic methods of Polynesian navigation;

4. Evaluate, by comparing and contrasting, features of the major cultures that make up Polynesia;

5. Appraise important events in the history of European contact and colonization of the Pacific, as well as decolonization;

6. Identify and evaluate Polynesian values and compare and contrast them with values of other cultures

7. Plan his/her own research and produce a research paper through library work and basic data analyses.


This course will present an overview of the history of Polynesia. Topics will include, but not be limited to, the following:

1. Basic Pacific Geology and Geography

a. Coral
b. Tropical Pacific Weather and Climate

2. The Peopling of the Pacific

a. Migration
b. Navigation and Canoe Technology
c. Pre-Contact Lifestyle

3. Post-Contact History and Development

a. Explorers
b. Outsiders
c. Colonialism in the Pacific
d. De-colonization

4. The Island Cultures of Polynesia

a. Samoa
b. Cook Islands
c. Tonga
d. French Polynesia
e. Rapa Nui
f. Hawaii
g. The Maori of New Zealand

5. Topics may also include

a. Values, Languages, and Lifestyles
b. Contemporary Issues

Method of Instruction:

1. Lecture

2. Discussion

3. Small group activities and projects

4. Role playing

5. Audio visual

6. Research projects

Types of Assignments:

1. Reading assignments from textbook and supplementary articles

2. Discussion (oral and written) based on reading and lectures

3. Short papers

4. Taking notes from reading and lectures

5. Library research in preparation for term papers or projects

6. Term papers or individual projects

7. Small group presentations

8. Final oral presentation

Sample Text:

1. Ridgell, Reilly. Pacific Nations and Territories: The Islands of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. 4th ed. Honolulu: Bess Press, 2006.