Ben Finney

Ben Finney, PhD

Professor Emeritus

Research Interests
Current Research
Selected Recent Publications
Courses recently taught


After receiving a B.A. in History, Economics and Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley (1955), and serving in the Navy and working in the steel and aerospace industries, I obtained a M.A. in anthropology at the University of Hawai'i (1959) and a Ph.D. in anthropology at Harvard University (1964). Following appointments at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Australian National University, in 1970 I returned to the University of Hawai'i and have been teaching here ever since. My fieldwork has taken me throughout Polynesia and to Papua New Guinea, as well as to more exotic places such as NASA's Johnson Space Center and Russia's Star City.

General Interests:

first migrations, Polynesian voyaging, exploring and settling beyond Earth, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, anthropological history, globalization, cultural revival

Current Research:

Now I am primarily occupied with: 1) testing reconstructed Polynesian voyaging canoes and methods of navigation on long ocean crossings to resolve issues concerning island discovery, settlement and subsequent inter-island voyaging, and also chronicling the cultural renaissance which has sprung from this initiative; 2) applying anthropological perspectives to the origin, conduct and impact on humankind of exploring, utilizing and expanding into space, as well as of the radio astronomy search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.

Selected Recent Publications:

1999 The Sin at Awarua. The Contemporary Pacific 11:1-33.

1999 The Cosmicization of Humanity. In Keys to Space: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Space Studies. Alice Houston and Michael Rycroft, eds. New York: McGraw Hill 19.18-19.35.

1998 Traditional Navigation and Nautical Cartography in Oceania. In The History of Cartography, Vol.3, part 2: Cartography in Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies, G. Malcolm Lewis and David Woodward, eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 443-492.

1998 A Tale of Two Analogues: Learning at a Distance from the Ancient Greeks and Mayans and the Problem of Deciphering Extraterrestrial Radio Transmissions (with Jerry Bentley. Acta Astronautica 42, No. 10-12:691-696.

1998 Experimental Voyaging, Oral Tradition and Long Distance Interaction in Polynesia. In Prehistoric Long-distance Interaction in Oceania: an Interdisciplinary Approach, Marshall I. Weisler, ed. New Zealand Archaeological Association Monograph 21, Auckland, New Zealand: New Zealand Archaeological Association, 38-52.

1997 Will Space Change Humanity? In Fundamentals of Space Life Sciences. Suzanne E. Churchill (ed.). Malabar, Florida: Krieger. Vol. 2: 247-255.

1996 Colonizing an Island World. In The Prehistoric Settlement of the Pacific. Ward Goodenough (ed.), Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. 86:71-116.

1996 Surfing: A History of the Ancient Hawaiian Sport. (with James Houston.) San Francisco: Pomegranate Artbooks.

1995 Tsiolkovsky, Russian Cosmism and Extraterrestrial Intelligence. (with Vladimir Lytkin and Liudmila Alepko) Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. Vol. 36: 369-376.

1994 The Other One-Third of the Globe. Journal of World History. 5: 273-297.

1994 Voyage of Rediscovery: A Cultural Odyssey through Polynesia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

1993 From the Stone Age to the Age of Corporate Takeovers. In Contemporary Pacific Societies: Studies in Development and Change. Victoria Lockwood, Thomas Harding, and Ben Wallace, (eds.), Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 102-116.

1992 From Sea to Space. The Macmillan Brown Memorial Lectures, Palmerston North, New Zealand: Massey University.

1992 French Polynesia: a Nuclear Dependency. In Social Change in the Pacific. Albert Robillard (ed.), London: Kegan, Paul, 346-371.

1992 Space Migrations: Anthropology and the Humanization of Space. In Space Resources. Mary McKay, David McKay and Michael Duke (eds.), Washington: NASA Special Publication 509, Vol. 4: 164-188.

Courses recently taught:

Anth 200 Cultural Anthropology

A unit mastery, non-lecture course on the principles of cultural anthropology in which students study a textbook, read ethnographic case studies, watch ethnographic films, attend discussion sections and take weekly exams. The discussion sections and exam periods are over the week to maximize opportunities for those students who need a flexible schedule.

Anth 350 Pacific Islands Cultures

An introductory course on the cultures of the Pacific Islands, or Oceania, to use an old term now coming back into style. The object is to introduce students to the diversity, history, and contemporary situation of the peoples of the Oceanic Pacific, that is Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, from the time the first voyagers ventured out into the ocean, up until today with all its new problems and opportunities.

Anth 430 Human Adaptation to the Sea

Most anthropology is terrestrial, oriented toward how humans have evolved and spread over the continents, learned to cultivate the earth and then developed land-based civilizations. This course looks instead to the sea, exploring the ways in various peoples around the globe have adapted to the oceanÑthe other 70 percent of the Earth's surfaceÑusing it as a highway for migration, trade and conquest as well as for food, recreation and inspiration. In particular, this course focuses on three contrasting approaches to the sea: Polynesian, European and Chinese.

Anth 432 Human Adaptation to Living in Space

We have walked on the Moon, and will land on Mars during your lifetime, with permanent settlement following sometime thereafter. What lies in store for humanity as we expand into space? Anthropologists have long been concerned with technological innovations and their consequences for humanity, but they have primarily focused on such long-past events as the tool-making and agricultural revolutions. This course focuses on a technological revolution that is now underwayÑspaceflightÑand explores the implications for the human condition of exploring space, utilizing space for communication, remote sensing and other terrestrial uses, and, above all, of eventually leaving Earth to settle on or create other worlds in the Cosmos.


1997 Regent's Medal for excellence in research. University of Hawai'i, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

1995 Tsiolkovsky Medal for contributions to the study of cosmonautics and the exploration of space. Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, Kaluga, Russia.

1995 French University of the Pacific Medal for contributions to the revival of traditional voyaging and the study of Polynesian culture and society. French University of the Pacific, Tahiti, French Polynesia and Noumea, New Caledonia.

1994 Royal Institute of Navigation Bronze Medal for the outstanding paper ("Rediscovering Polynesian Navigation through Experimental Voyaging") in vol. 46 (1993) of the Journal of Navigation. Royal Institute of Navigation, London, England.