Roger Fleming Hackett, 1922-2017

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Roger F. Hackett, professor of Japanese History at the University of Michigan, peacefully passed away in Ann Arbor, Michigan on October 26, 2017, shortly after his 95th birthday.

Our colleague Frank Shulman has compiled a obituary for Prof. Hackett, including many tributes and reminiscences from colleagues and former students. In view of its fullness and importance I have opted to publish it as the second of our "H-Asia Essays", which will keep it prominently featured for future readers.

Frank Shulman writes,

"Roger Hackett went on to study about East Asia at Harvard University, where he earned an M.A. in Regional Studies in 1949 and his Ph.D. in History in 1955. Written under the direction of Edwin O. Reischauer, his 417 page Ph.D. dissertation, "Yamagata Aritomo: A Political Biography," was a study of the life and career (1838-1922) of one of the foremost leaders of Meiji Japan in which he "determined the sources of this oligarch's political strength, examined the scope and direction of his influence, and evaluated the extent to which that influence shaped the character of the post-Tokugawa era." It was published as Yamagata Aritomo in the Rise of Modern Japan, 1838-1922, by Harvard University Press in 1971 (ix, 377p.) as volume 60 in its Harvard East Asian series.

Hackett was "among the postwar generation of scholars who brought East Asian Studies into the curriculum of American universities." He taught undergraduates East Asian history at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois from 1953 until 1961. He then moved to Ann Arbor to join the History Department of the University of Michigan as an associate professor. He was promoted to full professor in 1967 and served terms as the department's associate chair and chair (1975-1977). In addition, he was a core member -- including director from 1968 to 1971 and again during the late 1970s -- of the university's Center for Japanese Studies ..." (see more)


Ed. note: Frank Shulman has forwarded this further reflection, from Dr. Ronald Suleski. RD

In my mind's eye, I still see Roger rather clearly as he was in the early 1970s while director of the Center for Japanese Studies at
Michigan, trim and always moving. I remember admiring the crisp prose and tight organization of his publications. I remember him as always encouraging me in my studies.

But I also link Roger with Etō Shinkichi 衛藤瀋吉. When I went to Japan in 1978 on a Japan Foundation Fellowship, Etō arranged for me to give a paper at the International Conference of Orientalists (Tōhō gakkai 東方学会). He did that because about 1970 Roger had invited Susan and me to his home for a dinner with Etō-sensei prepared by Caroline. Roger told me he thought since I had an interest in Manchuria, I should meet this scholar from Japan.

The feeling I recall most strongly from that evening, believe it or not, is that all evening I tried to puzzle out if Etō was the scholar's given name or surname? It was only later after being well into my studies of Manchuria that I realized the given name of Shinkichi 瀋吉 meant "Happiness in Shenyang," where Etō was born in 1923. (Etō passed away in 2007.)


Ronald Suleski, PhD
Professor and Director
Rosenberg Institute for East Asian Studies
Suffolk University, Boston

Posted on behalf of Frank Conlon, H-Asia's founding co-editor, and Professsor Emeritus of History, South Asian Studies & Comparative Religion at University of Washington. RD

"Roger Hackett: a memory"

News of the passing of Roger Hackett has called back to mind an event I experienced whilst an undergraduate in his Far Eastern Civilization course at Northwestern University in the late 1950s.  I recall his lectures were concise and detailed--he would write an outline on the blackboard at the start of each class--and cover it all in the time available.

One feature of the course was that while no term paper was required, students were to do two book reports--one written, the other oral. I recall that my written report was on a book on the Ainu of Japan.  I think it was regarded as satisfactory.

Trouble arose on the oral book report.  First, like many an undergraduate, I waited too long to go find a suitable book in the Deering Library.  But I did locate a title which fit into the scope of the course:
China's first unifier; a study of the Chʻin dynasty as seen in the life of Li Ssŭ ... (280?-208 B.C.), by Derk Bodde (Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1938).

I read the book carefully and made notes to provide an outline for my oral report.  The only problem was that I was not really sure on how to pronounce the name Li Ssŭ.  But my appointment with Professor Hackett was approaching and I entered Harris Hall with some anxiety.  That anxiety soon turned to panic. Hackett smiled and said "well Mr. Conlon, on what book are you going report."  Suddenly the fact that I could not pronounce Li Ssŭ led me to forget the rest of the title. "Well, that's no problem," he kindly remarked.  Who is the author?  Now I was sweating--it occurred to me that I also didn't really remember the author's name because I never had figured out how to pronounce it.  After a moment of my stammering, he said, "well, what was the book about?"  "Oh sir," I blurted, "it was about China."  He replied, "well, that's a relief."

He did kindly draw out enough from me to gather that I had indeed read the book, but I went away with a sense of having really screwed up my prospects.

What that awful afternoon taught me, was that whenever I was teaching a course that would involve presenting South Asian terms and names, I would include an introductory thirty minutes on pronunciation and include a chart in the syllabus.  I reasoned that when going through the reading assignments if they came to a word they could not pronounce they would skip over to the next word they knew and not absorb the critical detail. I am sure that my best efforts did not overcome the attitudes of some students, but others seemed to
appreciate having the introduction.

Over the years after my 1960 graduation from Northwestern, I would encounter Roger Hackett at Northwestern and, later at Ann Arbor.  He was polite and each time when we met I reported my "academic progress"; admission to graduate study at Minnesota led him to offer what I think what might be characterized as  "puzzled congratulations."  When I later met him at an AAS conference and reported that I had been appointed to the faculty of the University of Washington, I think I might characterize his look of surprise as conveying "friendly curiosity."  In later AAS encounters he remained cordial and I suspect that there only remained a niggling idea in the back of his mind that, perhaps, I wasn't really the same Conlon who had sat in his office many decades earlier.

At any rate, I owe a lot to my initial exposure to East Asia in Hackett's survey course.  While I did not master pronunciation of the Wade-Giles transliterations--that came later--I did learn an important pedagogical fact: the ability to sound out "foreign" words is critical for student comprehension. (Of course, the same goes for professors...).