For the Fall 2021 Humanities Forum, the Dresher Center for the Humanities presents Constantine N. Vaporis, who will speak on A Lord, a Pauper, and an Artist: Putting People Back into Samurai History.
The samurai are a staple of popular culture. Yet, too often they have been viewed in formal history writing, museum exhibits, film, and anime as monolithic: a group of fierce warriors, driven by a fixed moral code, bent on dying in service to a military lord, or daimyo. The reality is much more complex, nuanced, and arguably far more interesting. In this talk, Constantine Vaporis draws on the biographies of samurai from across Japan—including a lord, an impoverished vassal, and an artist—to weave the larger story of how the samurai changed from largely illiterate warriors tied to the land to an urban, cultured, and largely salaried, bureaucratic elite with a proud martial tradition. He argues that this transformation was critical to the vitality of the Tokugawa or early modern era (1603–1868) and to one of the longest periods of peace in global history. He also explores the challenges of writing the history of a diverse social group that existed for more than two-and-a-half centuries.
Constantine N. Vaporis is Professor of History and Affiliate Faculty in Asian Studies and Gender, Women’s, + Sexuality Studies and was the Founding Director of the Asian Studies Program at UMBC. He teaches Japanese and East Asian History. He has received numerous fellowships for research in Japanese history including a Fulbright Scholar’s Award and an NEH Fellowship for College Teachers. He is the author of several books, including his most recent, Samurai: An Encyclopedia of Japan’s Cultured Warriors (2019). He was awarded the 2013–2016 UMBC Presidential Research Professorship, was selected for the ASIANetwork Speakers Bureau for two two-year periods, 2016–20, and won a residential fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton for 2020–21 to continue work on a collection of biographies of samurai, The Samurai in Fifteen Lives. He recently collaborated with TEDEd on the production of an educational animation entitled “A Day in the Life of a Teenage Samurai.”
Sponsored by the Dresher Center for the Humanities; the Asian Studies Program; and the Department of History.