Remembrance of Peter Duus

Robert Hellyer's picture

Peter Duus, William H. Bonsall Professor of History Emeritus at Stanford University, died on November 5 at the age of 88. He was survived by his wife, Masayo Umezawa Duus, who herself succumbed to illness within days of Peter’s death. Peter was a renowned leader in the field of modern Japanese history, an authority recognized in Japan, where he was awarded the Imperial Order of the Rising Sun for his decades of innovative contributions to understanding the creation of the modern Japanese nation. Throughout the academic world, his groundbreaking studies that analyzed feudalism, colonialism, and imperialism in Asia and in comparative contexts were lauded for providing new ways of seeing and understanding these forces. His monographs included The Rise of Modern Japan, Feudalism in Japan, The Abacus and the Sword: the Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910, and several edited volumes, including Volume 6 of the Cambridge History of Japan.

Peter actively contributed to establishing Asian Studies and modern Japanese history as academic fields through his scholarship, teaching, and mentoring of graduate students for more than four decades. After completing an AB magna cum laude at Harvard, he served in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1957 before completing an M.A. at the University of Michigan in 1959, and a Ph.D. at Harvard in 1965. The National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Program, and the Japan Foundation are just a few of the organizations that supported his creative and energetic research agenda, one that ranged from Japan’s path to modernity, the causes and consequences of imperialism, and the “Japanese discovery of America.”

Peter served in professorships in History at Washington University, St. Louis, from 1964 to 1966; Harvard University, 1966 to 1970; and Claremont Graduate School from 1970 to 1973. He began his career at Stanford in 1973, becoming emeritus in 2004. In the years after joining Stanford’s Department of History, Peter also held joint appointments as Executive Secretary of the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Tokyo; Director of Stanford’s Center for East Asian Studies; and President of the Association for Asian Studies. Peter’s unstinting efforts to support institutions for advanced Japanese language studies, graduate research, major conferences, and research and publication projects helped create the scaffolding for the vital international academic field that Japanese studies has become.

A brief litany of Peter Duus’s scholarly contributions, of course, cannot capture the man whose passing has left such a hole in our hearts. Peter possessed gravitas, but he also had a wonderful wry sense of humor. As several generations of graduate students can attest, he brought his sense of irony into his classes and seminars. His commentary was inevitably illuminating and sharp but never cutting. And he worked mightily, reading and revising and discussing, to transform his students’ work into more than it could have been without his guidance. He professed but did not preach, and taught by the example of his own dedicated work, work that he made one feel was worth doing.

Peter’s loss is compounded by the passing of his wife, Masayo Umezawa Duus. Peter and Masayo in many ways worked as a team in writing and translating a selection of their non-fiction works into Japanese and English. Masayo, a prolific writer whose work ranged widely from art history to chronicles of Hawaii’s immigrant past, was an award-winning author on both sides of the Pacific. Peter and Masayo will be deeply missed.

Michael Lewis, Emeritus Professor, History, Michigan State University

Robert Hellyer, Professor of History, Wake Forest University

Categories: Obituary
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