Intertextuality and the rhetorical construction of Hawai'i: Examining text and context relationships through 'The Journals of M. Leopoldina Burns'

Tennyson Lawrence O'Donnell, Syracuse University


This paper analyzes an unpublished history by Sister M. Leopoldina Burns, titled the Leopoldina Journals , recording the labors of Catholic sisters caring for patients with leprosy on Molokai, Hawaii in the late 1800s. In order to study the role of this particular text in discourses of cultural production, my research considers the text in several contexts and in light of several philosophies of text. From the perspective that text is meaningful social action accomplished through language, I consider not only what the Leopoldina Journals say but how they participate in multiple, sometimes oppositional, discourses. Besides considering the semantic intertextual patterns connecting the Leopoldina Journals to other written texts, I also examine the ways they are implicitly woven into the fabric of the Rhetoric of the Pacific. Much has been written about the history of Hawaii and its people in the years since Captain Cook "discovered" the eight island chain just above the equator in the Pacific Ocean. In academic institutions, the preponderance of information about Hawai'i has come from non-native sources. What is the effect of information collected and recorded by the author of this text on the culture under the lens of the writer? What is lost or gained? How are identities of peoples and places (both within the Catholic order and in the Hawaiian community) shaped by written material? Does language have the potency ascribed it to influence social action? Studying the Leopoldina Journals within these parameters supports an argument against neatly designated categories of texts that help and texts that hinder native peoples. More generally, the study contributes to academic discourse on text production, use, and corresponding relationships to notions of identity, race and language.