Publication Date

May 1, 1998

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

John W. Hall, A. Whitney Griswold professor of history emeritus at Yale University, died on October 21, 1997, at his home in Tucson, Arizona, at the age of 81. He was a distinguished scholar and a leading figure in the integration of Japanese history in college and university curriculums.

Born to missionary parents in Japan, Hall graduated from Amherst College in 1939. He settled on Japanese history as a career when he participated in an Amherst-Doshisha program immediately before World War II. He served in naval intelligence during that conflict, then resumed his studies at Harvard, where he took his PhD in 1950. He taught at the University of Michigan, serving as director of its Center for Japanese Studies, before moving to Yale in 1961. He was a leading figure at Yale, where he served as master of Morse College and as chair, successively, of the Council on East Asian Studies and the department of history. He was also a leader in national scholarly associations. He served as president of the Assoc iation for Asian Studies, was twice nominated as president of the American Historical Association, and served as a member of the editorial board of the American Historical Review.

Hall's career advanced and reflected the growth of Japanese historical studies. He chaired the Association for Asian Studies' Conference on Modern Japan, the ACLS-SSRC Joint Committee on Japanese Studies, and the Japan-American Friend ship Commission. He worked tirelessly to improve access to funding for students and institutions entering the field.

As a member of the first generation of American-trained specialists to enter the field of Japanese history, he first centered his attention on the institutional history of the Tokugawa period at a time when others were concentrating on later periods of Japan's history. His dissertation traced the career of Tanuma Okitsugu, an 18th-century shogunal administrator. A few years later, while directing the University of Michigan Field Station at Okayama, he discovered the vast collection of Ikeda house documents, one of the few domain repositories that survived the wartime destruction. Using these as core, he developed a history that showed how national trends were reflected in regional developments. The result, Government and Local Power in Japan, 500–1700: A Study Based on Bizen Province (Princeton University Press, 1966) stands as a seminal work. Hall’s Japan from Prehistory to Modern Times (Delacort, 1970), a work that first appeared in German, grew out of his lectures and extended his concern with institutional history throughout Japan’s past.

Hall was also a member in full standing of the historical profession in Japan, and introduced Western scholarship in Japan as he did Japanese scholarship in this country. Many Japanese historians have acknowledged his influence on their work. There was a full reciprocity about the many international scholarly conferences and publication projects he organized. In subject matter these moved back from Tokugawa to 16th-century and on to 14th-century and medieval Japan. These studies deepened and broadened American understanding of Japanese history. Each of these conference volumes had the effect of opening an area previously little studied for further exploration by his colleagues and students, and Hall was a central contributor to each. In addition to Studies in the Institutional History of Early Modern Japan (Princeton University Press, 1968), which he and I coedited, these volumes included Japan before Tokugawa: Political Consolidation and Economic Growth: 1500–1650 (with Nagahara Keiji and Kozo Yamamura, Princeton University Press, 1981), Japan in the Muromachi Age (with Toyoda Takeshi, University of California Press, 1977), and Medieval Japan: Essays in Institutional History (with Jeffrey P. Mass, Yale University Press, 1974). Hall was an editor of and contributor to the nine-volume Encyclopedia of Japan (Kodansha, 1983). His last major project was the Cambridge History of Japan (Cambridge University Press, 6 vols., 1988–98), for which he edited volume 5, Early Modern Japan (1989), in addition to serving as one of four general editors. This is a work that will stand for many years.

Honors came to him from both sides of the Pacific. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. There were honorary degrees from Doshisha and from Amherst, designation on the Japanese Imperial honors list as a member of the Order of the Sacred Treasure, an award from the Japan Foundation, the Japan Society of New York award for his contributions to Japanese-American cultural relations, and the American Historical Assoc iation's Award for Scholarly Distinction in 1987. The true measure of his influence, however, is to be found in the respect in which he was held by his students and colleagues.

Princeton University

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