Unsettling "Historic Integrity" at Honouliuli National Heritage Site, O'ahu, Hawai'i | Desiree Valadares

Unsettling “Historic Integrity” at Honouliuli National Heritage Site, O’ahu, Hawai’i | Desiree Valadares

Hawai’i’s newest National Monument was re-classified a National Historic Site in 2019. To a careful observer, cracked concrete foundations, watchtower footings, rusty rebar, mortared retaining walls, and stone edging hint at traces of a former US Army compound. Historic drainage infrastructure, built prior to the war, attests to the site’s function as a drainage area for nearby sugar plantations. Each year, these historic artifacts descend deeper into the herbaceous understory of invasive grasses as alluvial soils pour into the gulch after heavy rainfalls. A narrow stream that winds through Honouliuli carries erosion and runoff from agricultural and industrial activities in this watershed. This cycle of ebb and flow further obscures these historic features and conceals them deep within an already sunken landscape on the island of O’ahu.

In this provocation, I consider the case study of Honouliuli National Historic Site in Hawai’i to argue for a radical redefinition of “location” and “setting” as criteria in the evaluation, treatment, and ongoing management of a landscape’s historic integrity.1 I take inspiration from interdisciplinary fields of critical heritage studies, experimental preservation, critical ethnic studies, and legal geography to position heritage as a site of critical inquiry.2 Scholars in these fields aim to unsettle object-centered, expert-driven models and prescribed ways of protecting cultural heritage. “Detours” among other land-based, localized activist strategies have emerged as interventions that expose fraught processes of national heritage making.3 These forms of alternative knowledge production incite debate about terms such as “authenticity,” “universal cultural value,” “integrity,” and “significance” that are widely used to evaluate, interpret, and treat historic objects and properties. I argue that object-focused inventories fail to contend with broader chronologies, regional variations, localized histories, and lived experiences of place. Despite an emphasis on location and setting, prescribed boundary zones in a predetermined period of significance defers and denies wider-storied histories and multivocal land-based kinship to place.


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