Thesis Title

Pandemics in Hawaii

Date of Award

Fall 10-1-2022

Document Type

Thesis (Master's)

Department or Program

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

First Advisor

Elizabeth Carpenter-Song

Second Advisor

Mishra Manish

Third Advisor

Joseph O'Donnell


Pandemics are a phenomenon that have existed throughout humanity. The associated diseases they have brought have affected societies’ economies, cultures, and demographics. The biomedical sciences and the field of public health have done tremendous work combating pandemics by researching disease etiology as well as developing effective therapeutics and preventive vaccines. However, with the recent rise of COVID-19 and the accompanying politicization of the pandemic, critique of public health professionals, and the ascendance of anti-vaxxers, we see that science alone is insufficient to persuade disbelievers to follow public safety protocols. The numbers alone are not enough, and a new persuasive lens is needed. That new lens is the medical humanities.

In this thesis, I have applied humanistic methods by reviewing historical newspapers and thematically analyzing contemporary oral history interviews to provide insight into the experiences of the Spanish Influenza and COVID-19 pandemics in Hawaii, respectively. I then identified similarities, differences, and key lessons through humanistic interpretation to expand on future public health initiatives for the next pandemic. Lastly, I conclude that by reading and reflecting on past lived experiences through the medical humanities lens, society can rebuild trust in science and public health.