Michael Ing, an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, has been awarded a $226,000 New Directions Fellowship from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The fellowships, which have been offered nationwide since 2002, enable young scholars to pursue formal training outside their specialty.
The author of two books on early Confucian thought, Ing will use his two-year fellowship to explore new channels in Hawaiian Studies. “I want to explore what happens when we take Hawaiian culture seriously as a source of reflection on what it means to be human, instead of picturing Hawaii as a land of hula dancers and beaches,” Ing says.
For years, Ing has been exploring questions of vulnerability, ethics, and resilience that the COVID-19 pandemic has lately forced many Americans to confront for the first time. Native Hawaiian culture has grappled with these issues for even longer—since the 18th and 19th centuries, when diseases introduced by European and American colonizers killed nearly half of the indigenous population.
As he examines these issues, Ing will draw on a rich but largely untapped digital resource: the testimony contained in nearly a million pages of 19th-century Hawaiian-language newspapers. “It was a very explicit attempt to preserve Hawaiian culture in the face of a cultural genocide,” he says.
Ing’s new focus has a personal aspect, too. “It’s my attempt to round out my genealogy,” he explains. Ing, who is of Chinese and native Hawaiian ancestry, says that it has been several generations since anyone in his family spoke Chinese. Thus, his Harvard doctorate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations in a sense restored part of his heritage. Nor is Hawaiian a first language for Ing’s family, because of governmental prohibitions against speaking Hawaiian in schools or in public places that began in the 1940s. So, the Mellon grant, which Ing will use in part for advanced study of the Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii, will restore the other half of his hyphenated ancestry.
Rick Van Kooten, executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, shares Ing’s excitement about his new direction. “In the College, we’ve always welcomed fresh perspectives and new voices. I’m looking forward to the insights that Michael will bring not only to our campus but to several academic disciplines as a result of the Mellon fellowship.”
Story by Julie Gray