Network of Knowledge: Western Science and the Tokugawa Information Revolution
232pp. February 2016
Network of Knowledge: Western Science and the Tokugawa Information Revolution
Author: Jackson, Terrence;
Nagasaki during the Tokugawa (1603–1868) was truly Japan's window on the world with its Chinese residences and Deshima island, where Western foreigners, including representatives of the Dutch East India Company, were confined. In 1785 Ōtsuki Gentaku (1757–1827) journeyed from the capital to Nagasaki to meet Dutch physicians and the Japanese who acted as their interpreters. Gentaku was himself a physician, but he was also a Dutch studies (rangaku) scholar who passionately believed that European science and medicine were critical to Japan's progress. Network of Knowledge examines the development of Dutch studies during the crucial years 1770–1830 as Gentaku, with the help of likeminded colleagues, worked to facilitate its growth, creating a school, participating in and hosting scholarly and social gatherings, and circulating books. In time the modest, informal gatherings of Dutch studies devotees (rangakusha), mostly in Edo and Nagasaki, would grow into a pan-national society.

Applying ideas from social network theory and Bourdieu’s conceptions of habitus, field, and capital, this volume shows how Dutch studies scholars used networks to grow their numbers and overcome government indifference to create a dynamic community. The social significance of rangakusha, as much as the knowledge they pursued in medicine, astronomy, cartography, and military science, was integral to the creation of a Tokugawa information revolution—one that saw an increase in information gathering among all classes and innovative methods for collecting and storing that information. Although their salons were not as politically charged as those of their European counterparts, rangakusha were subversive in their decision to include scholars from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. They created a cultural society of civility and play in which members worked toward a common cultural goal. This insightful study reveals the strength of the community’s ties as it follows rangakusha into the Meiji era (1868–1912), when a new generation championed values and ambitions similar to those of Gentaku and his peers.

Network of Knowledge offers a fresh look at the cultural and intellectual environment of the late Tokugawa that will be welcomed by scholars and students of Japanese intellectual and social history.

9 b&w illustrations, 1 map

"This is a fascinating look into the mechanisms of communication. Through the life of physician and scholar Ōtsuki Gentaku, Terrence Jackson elucidates not just the transmission of Western knowledge to early modern Japan, but the shifting social climate in which intellectuals functioned. Clearly and concisely written, the book is destined to become an essential resource for any scholar of Japan, intellectual traditions, or networks." —Martha Chaiklin, Zayed University

"It has been more than a decade since a scholar publishing in the English language has taken the entire field of rangaku as his main subject. In this work, Terrence Jackson has raised the historical study of rangaku in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Japan to a new level of interpretation through his application of Bourdieu's insights on cultural production." —Reinier Hesselink, University of Northern Iowa

"Terry Jackson's book is an original look at the development of rangaku in nineteenth-century Japan. Rangaku is covered in most treatments of later Tokugawa and early Meiji Japan, but not in the way Jackson does it. He focuses not so much on the intellectual and educational world of which rangaku was part, but on social networking through a whole range of formal and informal institutions and practices that reveal new understandings of the Tokugawa cultural landscape. He digs up new material on private academies, salons, travel diaries, correspondence, and book circulation to provide unique insights into how rangaku networks functioned in the broader culture of Tokugawa Japan." —Richard Rubinger, Indiana University

Author: Jackson, Terrence;
Terrence Jackson is associate professor of history at Adrian College.