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Interview with Robert Hegwood, Research Award Recipient

Each year, the recipients of the 20th Century Japan Research Awards visit the University of Maryland to use the materials in the Gordon W. Prange Collection.  They often spend a week or more on campus.  They are interviewed at the end of their stay about their research experience.

Mr. Hegwood in the Maryland Room.

One of the two recipients of the award for 2016-2017 is Robert Hegwood, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.  He is currently writing his dissertation on, “The Social Foundations for Growth: Nikkei Brokers and Japan in the Global Imaginary, 1930-1965.”  His research examines the intermediary role Japanese communities in America played in campaigns by Japanese corporations and the foreign ministry to improve American perceptions of Japan and its products, resulting in a little-studied Japan boom in postwar America.

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How did you learn about the research award, and why did you apply for it?

I had used some of the Prange collection microfilm during my Fulbright year and again during a research trip to UCLA. One of my dissertation committee members, Jessamyn Abel at Pennsylvania State University, recommended the research award because it had been useful for her research on the bullet train in Japan. I applied because my research in Japan on the intermediary role of Japanese Americans in restarting US-Japan trade and public diplomacy between 1945 and 1965 left two questions unanswered. First, how did the Japanese trade and diplomatic officials that worked with Japanese Americans to reshape postwar American public opinion on Japan and its products see overseas Japanese? Moreover, how did Japanese communities in America fit in with the visions of a new Japan driving the reconstruction of Japanese society, industry, and foreign relations? I thought a look at some magazines in the Prange collection touching on immigration issues and trade promotion could help clarify this part of the story.

What motivated you to focus on this research topic?

I was first drawn to issues of race in American society as an undergraduate, particularly the politics of exclusion in the early-to-mid-twentieth century. During a course on East Asian history, I discovered that if you want to study the same issues of race on a global level, Japan makes an interesting test case. They were genuine victims of racial discrimination in the form of immigration restriction, but perpetuated the global hierarchies of race in order to be seen as the one advanced race in Asia, a sort of global model minority. From then on, I had an interest in Japan. So, I learned Japanese from scratch in a few years while doing master’s degree coursework. Because I was unprepared to do primary research in Japanese for my thesis, I wrote a history of the local Japanese American community in Portland, Oregon, following their wartime internment. Throughout my education, I have been interested in transnational frameworks for history and have been slowly getting closer and closer to Japan.

Which material in the Prange Collection left the biggest impression on you?

There were two things that really struck me about the collection: its size and the censorship marks. Other than the National Diet Library, there are few places that hold resources for Japanese historians across thematic and disciplinary interests. Just scrolling through the excel-file lists of titles is a time-consuming process. Because of the sheer volume of the collection and its short geographic scope, one really gets a broad perspective on Japan at a moment of possibility and transition. This perspective differs greatly from the sense imparted by following specific trends over long periods of time. Though censorship is largely outside of the scope of my dissertation, seeing certain articles marked up in red pencil with censorship reports attached is fascinating. Many of these marks also present mysteries. For instance, the galley proofs of a book on Japanese Americans had all references to Japanese Americans in the US armed forces as adherents of bushidō, the fabricated martial ideology, penciled out. Clearly, US authorities sought to portray these soldiers as ideologically American, but were there really Japanese equating them with samurai?  The marks not only raise questions about American governance, but also give you a sense of both the bright and dark portions of Japanese public imagination of that era.

How would you describe the research experience at the University of Maryland Libraries?  Do you have any suggestions for fellow researchers using the collection?

I had an excellent experience researching at the University of Maryland. Prange collection staff were extremely helpful in pointing out the research databases and other tools I needed to request documents before arrival. Once on site, the Maryland Room staff facilitated my perusal of files and microfiche, while Yukako and Kana of the Prange staff kindly pulled files for me continually throughout the week. That allowed me a great amount of flexibility to follow up on leads I found earlier in the week. I highly recommend creating an a fairly exhaustive list of authors and historical figures before arriving at the collection. Because the reading room does not have Japanese reference material this work should definitely be done prior to visiting. Keyword searches in the relevant databases reveal a certain number of articles, but I found that searching by author name was a much more productive method for tracking down sources in the collection.

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