The Micronesian Seminar (known popularly as MicSem) was a church-sponsored organization founded in 1972 to engage in social research and community education work. Over the 39 years of its operation, it served the people of what was once the Trust Territory of the Pacific, now comprising the island nations of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of Palau (ROP), and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), as well as Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). In time MicSem became one of the foremost non-governmental organizations in both research and community education throughout the Pacific.
MicSem began with a dozen boxes of books on the Pacific, a few rusty shelves and a battered Olympia typewriter, all housed in one of the smaller faculty rooms at Xavier High School. Its name was inherited from the monthly seminar that former Jesuit scholastics from the islands engaged in during their theological training in the United States. In 1982 MicSem was moved to “downtown” Chuuk, where it expanded its operations over the next ten years. Then, in 1992, MicSem was relocated to Pohnpei in 1992, where it acquired a new two story building to house its facilities in 1996. At the same time, responsibility for MicSem was transferred from the diocese to the Jesuits of Micronesia.
From the very start, MicSem was deeply involved in public education regarding contemporary social issues. The topics ranged widely–from future political status, to economic development, improvement of government services, impact of modernization on social life, and migration of the island people to the US.
It was not long before MicSem itself turned toward social research. The suicide epidemic that began in the 1970s was the trigger, but other subjects of research were alcohol and drug abuse among the young, growing rates of psychosis in males, and increased rates of domestic violence. A major theme throughout was the effect of modern life on the physical and mental health of island people.
MicSem has also been involved in historical and cultural research in this part of the Pacific. Its founder and director, Francis X. Hezel, S.J., has written several books and monographs and well over a hundred articles on island history and culture. His books include The First Taint of Civilization and Strangers in Their Own Land, together constituting a post-contact history of the Caroline and Marshall Islands up to independence. He has also co-authored a single-volume coffee table book on Micronesian history under the title Micronesia: Winds of Change.
MicSem also issued an occasional publication, Micronesian Counselor, between 1991 and 2010. The range of subjects treated is broad: government, history, culture, health, and social-change are all addressed. This publication, which once was distributed to a mailing list of nearly 1,000, is available on this website.
In addition, Micronesian Seminar developed its own media studio in 1994 and for the next two decades was engaged in the production of educational videos telecast on local channels throughout the area. MicSem has produced a total of 73 videos, documentaries as well as dramas, most of them about a half-hour in length, dealing with a variety of topics touching the lives of viewers. These videos deal with health topics such as diabetes and HIV to along with the same wide range of issues as do MicSem’s publications. MicSem also produced a seven-hour set of five programs on the history of Micronesia. These video productions are all available on this website.
Besides the educational materials that it produced, MicSem also maintained what was undoubtedly the best resource collection on the region. The core of this collection was its library of print materials of over 24,000 titles, including the major historical and ethnological works on the region in a half dozen languages. The collection also holds a collection of 85,000 historical photos that ranges over the entire geographical expanse of the region and extends back to the last quarter of the 19th century. MicSem’s resources also include moving footage, more than 800 videotapes and old films on the region, all of which have been digitized and catalogued. MicSem also has also collected island music of all types: chants, dances, elegies, old love songs, humorous pieces, religious hymns, and modern island music. The music collection already numbers 21,000 tracks. This rich collection of resources documenting the life and history of the islands can be searched on this website. Copies of any of these materials may be requested of the curator of the MicSem collection, now housed at Yap Catholic High School.