University of California, Berkeley

From the 2019 Award for Scholarly Distinction citation in the 2020 Annual Meeting Awards Ceremony booklet

Mary Elizabeth Berry, Class of 1944 Professor of History emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, helped shape the fields of pre-modern Japanese political, social, and cultural history.

Her first book, Hideyoshi (1982) was a nuanced study of how the Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi managed to combine the use of compromise and violence to achieve peace and a durable balance of power among hundreds of fractious factions in Japan’s Warring States period (c. 1467–1590).

In The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto (1994), Berry turned to the toll war took on those who lived in the imperial capital of Kyoto during the Warring States period. Using a wealth of documentary and visual sources to support a deep and almost anthropological analysis of behavior and motives, Berry showed how war disrupted communal structures and social life, but also how new forms of cultural expression—most notably those of popular protest and display— emerged from upheaval.

In Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period (2006), Berry explored the dynamics of Japan’s burgeoning print culture in the 17th through early 19th century. She showed, again by focusing closely on lived and narrated experience, how the cultural connections fostered by the spread of literacy and printed materials created meaningful forms of cultural integration before the nation state.

Berry was the first woman ever to chair the Department of History at Berkeley and chaired three other departments there as well. Her professional achievements were recognized by her election as president of the Association for Asian Studies in 2004–05 and as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009.