Dr Ann Waswo: 17 May 1940 – 21 September 2020

I am sorry to have to share with you the sad news that Dr Ann Waswo passed away at the John Radcliffe hospital on Monday evening. She had her eightieth birthday in May of this year. From her arrival in Oxford in early 1982 until her retirement in 2007, Ann was a mainstay of the Nissan Institute (which she helped to set up along with Arthur Stockwin and Jenny Corbett as one of its three inaugural appointments) and the College’s Governing Body

Ann grew up in Southern California, initially in Los Angeles, with her parents, Silvia Schulman Lardner, who drew on her experience as secretary to producer David O. Selznick for a recently republished novel, I Lost My Girlish Laughter, and screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. (winner of two Academy Awards, including for the screenplay of M*A*S*H), who was infamously blacklisted by the industry for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in its investigation of Communist influence in the movie business.

Ann first went to Japan in 1961 for two years to study the Japanese language when she was still a history undergraduate at Stanford. She subsequently took her PhD from Stanford under the supervision of Thomas C Smith. She taught at Stanford University, the University of Virginia and Princeton University before coming to Oxford where she was a passionate advocate for teaching about Japan on the undergraduate History syllabus and a highly dedicated supervisor to generations of graduate students who have gone on to major careers of their own in universities across the world. Ann had several terms as Director of the Nissan Institute and was instrumental in the design and functioning of the new building which was opened in 1993. 

Ann’s interests in the social history of modern Japan, are reflected in her many publications. These include: Japanese Landlords: The Decline of a Rural Elite (1977); (as translator) The Soil by Nagatsuka Takashi: A Portrait of Rural Life in Meiji Japan (1989)Modern Japanese Society, 1868-1994 (1996); Housing in Postwar Japan: A Social History (2002); and (as co-editor) Farmers and Village Life in Twentieth-Century Japan (2003). Her style of writing was characterised by an unusual combination of clarity, detail and conciseness; her OUP book covering 120 years of modern Japanese history and society is less than 180 pages long and was, for many years, the Lonely Planet Japan’s top recommendation as introductory reading for the country. She was widely recognised as one of the world’s leading historians of modern Japan of her generation.

On retirement, Ann turned to writing fiction which also drew on her knowledge of Japan. Damaged Goods (2011) is a detective story which doubles as a critique of UK state policy toward research by university academics; it was reportedly widely read by staff at HEFCE, the body that oversaw UK higher education at the time. Most recently, Ann had been working on a sequel, Rough Justice, which was set in Tokyo and involved an examination of flaws in the Japanese criminal justice system; it has some clear resonances with the case of Carlos Ghosn, the erstwhile CEO of Nissan.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Ann’s role on the College’s Governing Body during her time as a Fellow. While she had a number of formal roles, including being Sub-Warden for two years, she also took on responsibility for some of the most complex challenges which the College faced. She drafted College policies on issues as diverse as sexual harassment, the College silver, senior memberships and a complete rewrite of the College statutes which were subsequently approved by Privy Council.  She became the repository of both College process and practice and at her farewell GB Dinner the Warden wondered how the College would manage without her; thankfully, she was extremely generous in giving time to the College long in to her retirement.

Ann was a wonderfully loyal, warm and unsentimental friend. Although she had not been feeling well in recent months, she retained her fierce independence until the end. All those who knew her, will miss her greatly.

It is planned that there will be a (necessarily small) funeral for Ann in the near future and a memorial event in the College as soon as such events can be held. We will inform colleagues of the details of both as soon as we have information available.

Roger Goodman

Nissan Professor of Modern Japanese Studies and

Warden, St Antony’s College

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