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.
One of the two recipients of the award for 2017-2018 is W. Evan Young, a professor at Dickinson College. His research topic is “Health and Home in Occupation-Era Japan: Promoting Medical Knowledge in Popular Women’s Magazines.”
How did you learn about the research award, and why did you apply for it?
I learned about the Twentieth Century Japan Research Award through H-NET, where I saw it advertised and was inspired to apply. I had also noticed the award in the CVs of several colleagues specializing in modern Japanese studies. Since the award has supported scholars for nearly two decades, it has now fostered a sizable body of work in the field, and I was excited to have the chance to join the ranks of awardees. Although I had spent the majority of my research time throughout my academic career in archives in Japan, for the subject of my current research—women’s magazines during the occupation period—there really is no better archive than the Prange Collection. The Twentieth-Century Japan Research Award provided a perfect opportunity to begin my new long-term project with this amazing collection.
What motivated you to focus on this research topic?
I have always been fascinated by how families manage illnesses at home using a wide variety of means and methods of care. Women’s roles in domestic healthcare as skilled and knowledgeable caregivers in particular remains an understudied topic in the history of medicine, but publishers of popular print in Japan have long been aware of their crucial role in healthcare. Through my research in regional archives throughout Japan, I came into evermore contact with popular print and women’s magazines from the first half of the twentieth century that gave advice on how to treat ailments at home. My interest was piqued, but when I happened to stumble across women’s magazines from the occupation period, I realized just how much this type of medical information had become a staple of popular print following the Second World War. In the aftermath the war, domestic healthcare took on increasing importance as medical institutional infrastructure had yet to recover its prewar capacity, and the editors and authors of women’s magazines saw an opportunity to market their publications to help fill the larger therapeutic needs of the population. The Prange Collection offers access to the most complete holdings of this type of popular print from the occupation era and was the ideal location to begin my investigation into this topic.
Which material in the Prange Collection left the biggest impression on you?
The Shufu no tomo (The housewife’s friend) magazine has always been one of my favorites, and it was an amazing experience to read through the entire run from 1945-49. To my mind, one of the best things about the Prange Collection’s holdings of this magazine is just how complete it is, especially the mail-order advertisements and supplements to regular issues. One gets the sense of how the publisher experimented to try to reestablish its readership and cater to the needs and interests of its subscribers during the immediate post-war period. Taken all together, viewing the end of the war and daily life during the occupation through the eyes of the magazine’s editorial staff was a powerful experience.
How would you describe the research experience at the University of Maryland Libraries?
I had a wonderful time! The Prange Collection archivists were all so helpful and supportive, and I discovered valuable sources beyond those I initially requested. I was also impressed by the other staff in the Maryland Room—the special collections reading room—who were not necessarily directly related to the Prange Collection but were nonetheless helpful and encouraging. The research talk I gave in the beginning of October also proved a great chance to connect with a broader segment of the UMD College Park community, and I received a great deal of feedback, fruitful questions, and advice on how to proceed with the project.
Do you have any suggestions for fellow researchers using the collection?
The UMD Libraries have a slick interface for requesting materials ahead of time, which is fantastic, but be sure to also email the Prange Collection archivists to introduce yourself, let them know you will be visiting, and briefly explain your research goals. The staff are all incredibly supportive and knowledgeable. While you are visiting, ask if any of the archivists might have time to chat with you about your project—they often know about resources within the collection that might easily be missed during initial searching.