Publication Date

December 10, 2021

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily

Judith Vitale is a lecturer within the Department of History at the University of Zurich. She lives in Zurich, Switzerland, and has been a member since 2008.


Judith Vitale

Judith Vitale

Alma maters: PhD, University of Zurich, 2007; Habilitation, University of Zurich, 2018

Fields of interest: Japan

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?

University was too much fun to leave; I did not plan to still be there today. The wall of my high school had it right: “women, be beautiful rather than smart, because men can see better than think.” It describes the situation in Switzerland quite well, but university is not a bad place to be.

What do you like the most about where you live and work?

The lake—though I am hardly ever there.

What projects are you currently working on?

A second book on the history of historical writing in Japan; a co-edited volume on the history of drugs in Japan; and a third book on the history of gardens and the horticultural exchange between Japan and the world.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?

I was a medievalist before becoming a modern historian, and the historians who influenced me most were medievalists.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?

I want to mention two: an 18th-century hanging scroll owned by a peasant family in a small Japanese village, illustrating their warrior ancestor—it was based on a 13th-century document which the artist must have known. And a book by a Japanese person in the 1920s, describing his drug experiences—until then I did not know that the Japanese had a drug culture.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

There are few books I read entirely: Ludwik Fleck’s Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact was one of them.

What do you value most about the history discipline?

I appreciate that it allows me to be critical about the present and to meet people.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you?

To know what is happening in the history discipline.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?

I have only participated once in New York, and I was impressed by the friendly and encouraging atmosphere.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association