Howell, David L. 1959- (David Luke Howell)

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Howell, David L. 1959- (David Luke Howell)


Born 1959. Education: University of Hawaii at Hilo, B.A., 1981; Princeton University, M.A., 1986, Ph.D., 1989.


Office—East Asian Studies Department, 211 Jones Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544. E-mail—[email protected]


University of Texas at Austin, assistant professor, 1989-92; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, assistant professor, 1993-99, associate professor, 1999-2004, professor of history, 2004—, director of graduate studies in department of East Asian studies, 1996-97, 1998-2002, acting director of department of East Asian studies, 2001-02, chair of department of East Asian studies, 2005—. Visiting research scholar, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, Japan, 2002-03; visiting scholar, Institute for Advanced Study, 2007-08. Japan Advisory Board member, Social Science Research Council, 2001-05.


Association for Asian Studies (board of directors, 2003-04).


Advanced Research Grant, Social Science Research Council, 1991; Professional Research Fellowship, Japan Foundation, 1992; Joint Committee on Japanese Studies/Social Science Research Council Workshop grant, 1995; Robert K. Root University Preceptorship, Princeton University, 1996-99; Fulbright Senior Scholar Research Award, 1997-98; honorific fellowship, Princeton University, 2007-08; National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, 2007-08.


(With others) Elements of the Structure of Agricultural Education in the United States of America, UNESCO (Paris, France), 1983.

Capitalism from Within: Economy, Society, and the State in a Japanese Fishery, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1995.

Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2005.

(Editor, with James C. Baxter, and contributor) History and Folklore Studies in Japan, International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Kyoto, Japan), 2006.

Contributor to books, including New Directions in the Study of Meiji Japan, edited by Helen Hardacre and Adam Kern, E.J. Brill (Leiden, The Netherlands), 1997; Basho ukeoisei to Ainu: Kinsei Ezochishi no kochiku o mezashite (title means "The Contract-Fishery System and the Ainu: Toward the Construction of an Early Modern History of the Ezochi"), edited by Hokkaido-Tohoku Shi Kenkyukai, Hokkaido Shuppan Kikaku Sentaa (Sapporo, Japan), 1998; Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, edited by William W. Fitzhugh and Chisato O. Dubreuil, University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA), 1999; Japanese Civilization in the Modern World, Volume 16: Nation-State and Empire, edited by Tadao Umesao, Takashi Fujitani, and Eisei Kurimoto, National Museum of Ethnology (Suita, Japan), 2000; Historical Perspectives on Contemporary East Asia, edited by Merle Goldman and Andrew Gordon, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000; The Teleology of the Modern Nation-State: Japan and China, edited by Joshua A. Fogel, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2005; Shuen bunka to mibunsei (title means "Marginal Cultures and the Status System"), edited by Wakita Haruko, Martin Collcutt, and Taira Masayuki, Shibunkaku Shuppan (Kyoto, Japan), 2005; Rokaru hisutorii kara gurobaru hisutorii e: Tabunka no rekishigaku to chiikishi (title means "From Local History to Global History: Multicultural Historiography and Regional History"), edited by Kawanishi Hidemichi, Namikawa Kenji, and M. William Steele, Iwata Shoin (Tokyo, Japan), 2005; Nas honaru hisutorii o manabisuteru (title means "Unlearning National History"), edited by Sakai Naoki, University of Tokyo Press (Tokyo, Japan), 2006; Looking Modern: East Asian Visual Culture from the Treaty Ports to World War II, edited by Hans Thomsen and Jennifer Purtle, Center for the Arts of East Asia, University of Chicago/Art Media Resources (Chicago, IL), 2008; and Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World, edited by Peter N. Stearns and others, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2008. Contributor to periodicals, including Journal of Asian Studies, Past and Present, Modern Asian Studies, Journal of Asian History, and Daedalus. Member of editorial board, Journal of Japanese Studies, 2006—.


A scholar of the economic and social history of Japan, especially from the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries, David L. Howell is interested in researching the transitional period between the Tokugawa era of 1600 through 1868 and the Meiji period that succeeded it until 1912. Among his published works are Capitalism from Within: Economy, Society, and the State in a Japanese Fishery and Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan. In a review for the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Harold Bolitho commented on Howell's Capitalism from Within, which is about how the fishing villages on the island of Hokkaido were negatively affected by Japan's opening up to the West and adoption of capitalistic practices. Before the nineteenth century, the fishing economy in coastal Hokkaido was operated by small family ventures overseen by local lords.

By the eighteenth century, there were already signs of trouble as demand for herring grew as a food source and as a product used in fertilizer. Although the increased fishing spelled trouble for the supply of herring, harvesting increased exponentially in the nineteenth century as Western technologies were introduced. A device called a pound-trap began to be used. Expensive to purchase, it made up for that cost by catching many more fish, and leading to complete over-fishing of the area's seas. While this was happening, the family businesses were being replaced by large companies that would hire outsiders during peak season to catch fish during their annual run. "This was a capitalist transformation and, as Howell argues, it did nobody any good," reported Bolitho. Only a small minority profited from the industry changes, and after the herring were fished out the entire region faced a wave of poverty that had not existed before. In his book, Howell also explains how this growth in capitalism and industrialization during the Meiji period had roots in Japan's traditional culture. Bolitho felt that Howell "deserve[d] congratulations" for enlightening readers about how culture and political change affected fishing in Hokkaido.

Howell's Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan again covers the transitional period between the Tokugawa and Meiji periods, but this time in a much broader sense. Howell examines how a well-defined system of craftsmen, warriors, farmers, and merchants changed into a very different class system with modernization. Although the old system defined people by their occupation, there were still opportunities to increase one's wealth and prosperity. Even those who were considered outcasts, such as blind people who found it difficult to contribute to society within any of the four categories of society, enjoyed a measure of autonomy. However, "the utility of status groups declined and individual productivity became crucial" as the Meiji rulers began to feel threatened by the West and a nationalistic fervor grew, as James L. Huffman noted in a Historian review.

Howell explores in his book just why the Tokugawa system of vocational classes worked before the mid-1800s and why it had to be supplanted later with modernization and the opening of Japan to the West. The author "seeks to answer by addressing three ‘geographical identities’—polity, status, and civilization," according to Historian contributor Margaret Mehl. Discussing polity, the feudal system of shogunal and other territories, Howell explains how these were defined by a Confucian worldview. With the establishment of the Meiji system, this system was destroyed, having a particularly marked effect on those who were considered outcasts. Howell pays particular attention to the Ainu minority, who never integrated into the rest of Japanese society and maintained a level of autonomy. Huffman considered "Howell's use of marginal groups to illustrate his argument," including the Ainu, to be a "major strength of this work." The critic also mentioned how other outcasts, such as the burakumin, were oppressed after the social breakdown that existed between the two periods, as demonstrated by the Mimasaka Blood-Tax Rebellion of 1873.

In assessing Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan, Huffman considered the academically dense writing style to be a drawback, while adding that "if the sledding is rough, the ride is exhilarating because of the new interpretations that are provided." Huffman was particularly intrigued by Howell's general theory, backed up with specific examples, that the Japanese would not accept those who were not part of its established status system to be full-fledged members of its society, thus laying the groundwork for the attitudes that marked its empire leading up to World War II. While also observing that Howell provides little new research in his book, except for the revelations about outcasts and outsiders in Japanese society, Huffman concluded that the author's "analyses are provocative and persuasive enough to make it a classic." Mehl asserted that "his broad view of the period represents an enlightening contribution to the literature on Japan's transition in the nineteenth century…. The balance of specific details and abstraction, as well as the lucid style, make the book very readable."



American Historical Review, April, 2006, F.G. Notehelfer, review of Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan, p. 451.

Asian Affairs, March, 2006, P.F. Kornicki, review of Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan, p. 135.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, November, 1995, M.Y. Rynn, review of Capitalism from Within: Economy, Society, and the State in a Japanese Fishery, p. 512; December, 2005, K. Hirano, review of Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan, p. 718.

Historian, fall, 2006, James L. Huffman, review of Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan; winter, 2006, Margaret Mehl, review of Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan.

Japan Quarterly, April 1, 1996, Janet Goff, review of Capitalism from Within, p. 225.

Journal of Asian History, fall, 1996, Gary P. Leupp, review of Capitalism from Within.

Journal of Asian Studies, May, 1996, Mitchell Bernard, review of Capitalism from Within, p. 457.

Journal of Economic Literature, September, 1995, review of Capitalism from Within, p. 1495.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History, winter, 1997, Harold Bolitho, review of Capitalism from Within; summer, 2007, Jordan Sand, review of Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan.

Times Literary Supplement, January 26, 1996, Carol Gluck, review of Capitalism from Within, p. 8.


Princeton University East Asian Studies Department Web site, (April 15, 2008), brief faculty biography.

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Howell, David L. 1959- (David Luke Howell)

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