Kerri Inglis, Professor of History

Above, service-learning volunteers under the tutelage of Kerri Inglis remove invasive vegetation from Moku Puakala, a historic and mostly unmarked cemetery at Kalawao, Kalaupapa. Photo by Kerri Inglis.

Professor Inglis researches the sense of community in Molokai leprosy settlement. She has devoted her career to studying the history of leprosy in Hawai‘i with focus on the history of kama‘āina who lived on the peninsula of Kalaupapa, Molokai.

Kerri Inglis
Kerri Inglis. Photo by Sarah Anderson

Kerri Inglis, professor of history at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, specializes in research and teaching in the history of health, disease, and medicine, especially as it pertains to Hawai‘i and the Pacific, within a global context. She has devoted her career to studying the history of leprosy in Hawai‘i and done extensive research on patients’ experience at Kalaupapa peninsula on Molokai* pre-1900. She has written a book on the topic, Ma‘i Lepera: Disease and Displacement in 19th Century Hawai‘i (2013, UH Press), which earned honorable mention for Excellence in Hawaiian Language, Culture, and History at the 2014 Ka Palapala Poʻokela Awards.

The history of leprosy on Molokai

In 2012, Inglis conducted a socio-cultural study on the history of the kama‘āina (native residents) who lived on the peninsula of Kalaupapa and surrounding areas on the island of Molokai that now constitute Kalaupapa National Historical Park.  These kama‘āina of the ahupua‘a of Waikolu, Kalawao, Makanalua, and Kalaupapa were displaced with the establishment of the leprosy settlement on the peninsula between the years 1865-1900.

Kerri Inglis with back pack hiking up trail from Kaulapapa, peninsula in background.
Kerri Inglis hiking the steep trail into Kalaupapa peninsula, Molokai. Photo by Annemarie Aweau

“I am essentially trying to understand the lives of the people who lived on the Kalaupapa peninsula prior to the establishment of the leprosy settlement, and then changes that came about as a result of the leprosy settlement such as land issues, displacement, and relations with the patients,” Inglis says about the study.

“I am also charged with developing a database prototype that will eventually make all of this research available to others who are interested in this history. Collected documents include Board of Health records, letters, Hawaiian and English newspaper articles, and more,” she says.

The final product of this study was presented as a comprehensive report to the National Park Service.

One of the many documents collected by researcher Kerri Inglis. This is the first page of a contract to grow kalo (taro) that was made in 1873 between the kama‘āina of Kalaupapa peninsula, the residents of the leprosy settlement, and the Board of Health. Photo courtesy of the Hawai‘i State Archives.

Inglis includes students in all her research work. Students’ duties include assistance with literature review, archival research, report preparations, translation of Hawaiian language materials, and summary report preparation, among other activities. One assisted with transcribing and translating letters that were sent to the Board of Health in French.

Student assistants who worked alongside Inglis during the kama‘āina project (2010-2012) included:

  • Annemarie Aweau, bachelor of arts in Hawaiian studies from UH Hilo who went on to earn a graduate degree in library and informational sciences at UH Mānoa.
  • Noah Gomes, bachelor of arts in Hawaiian studies from UH Hilo who went on to earn the UH Hilo master of arts in Hawaiian language and literature from UH Hilo.
  • Aolani Kailihou, bachelor of arts in Hawaiian studies from UH Hilo who received a master of arts in Hawaiian language and literature from UH Hilo.
  • Pūlama Lima, double major in anthropology and Hawaiian studies at UH Hilo.
  • Kamalei Stovall, bachelor of arts in history, specializing in Hawaiian history, from UH Hilo.

The research resulted in at least one paper accepted for publication: “Nā hoa o ka pilikia (friends of affliction): a sense of community in the Molokai leprosy settlement of 19th century Hawai‘i,” (2013, Journal of Pacific History).


Inglis received her bachelor of arts in history from Brigham Young University–Hawai‘i; master of arts from the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto (emphasis on the history of medicine); and doctor of philosophy in history from UH Mānoa.


*Prof. Inglis does not use an ‘okina or macron in the word Molokai. “I am using the spelling Molokai rather than Moloka‘i—unless quoting directly from other sources—throughout this work as has been recommended by the kūpuna (elders) of Molokai,” says Inglis. See the opening “Note” in Harriet Ne with Gloria L. Cronin’s, Tales of Molokai: The Voice of Harriet Ne (Lā’ie: Institute for Polynesian Studies, 1992), vi.


By Susan Enright, public information specialist, Office of the Chancellor. 

Published April 16, 2012; updated Aug. 10, 2018.