|June 10, 2008|
Noted author and historian John W. Dower receives honorary degree at Commencement
John W. Dower, a leading expert in relations between Japan and the United States, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters at Commencement.
Dower, a professor of Japanese History at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is author of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (1999), which won numerous honors, including the Pulitzer Prize in Letters for General Nonfiction and the National Book Award in Nonfiction. The book covers the American occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1952 and was called “a dazzling political and social history” by Publisher’s Weekly.
Other works by Dower include War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986) and Empire and Aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese (1979), which became a bestseller in its Japanese translation.
“I have used John Dower’s work, particularly War Without Mercy, in several of my classes and it never fails to generate enthusiastic discussion,” said Joyce Madancy, associate professor of history at Union, who nominated Dower for the honor. “His ideas are provocative and sophisticated, challenging students to recognize the role that racism played in escalating the brutality on both sides of the Pacific during World War II, and yet, Dower’s writing is so engaging that students always comment on how much they enjoy his work.”
Madancy introduced Dower for the presentation of the honorary degree.
In a 1999 interview with PBS, Dower said of Embracing Defeat: “Usually we historians deal with the policy makers and the elites. I was trying to capture the voices of ordinary men, ordinary women, returned soldiers, even children.”
Dower earned a degree in American Studies from Amherst College in 1959 and a doctorate in Far Eastern languages from Harvard University in 1972. He was this year on leave from his professorship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to joining M.I.T. in 1991, Dower taught at the University of Wisconsin and the University of California – San Diego.
Beyond his teaching and historical writing, Dower has focused on the visual arts. He has written a book about Japanese design, photography and painting and was executive producer of the 1986 documentary film, Hellfire – A Journey from Hiroshima.
Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons, a prominent national leader in higher education and the first African-American president of an Ivy League institution, also received an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree Sunday. Simmons delivered the main address to about 500 graduates.
Simmons is noted for her commitment to diversity and engineering, two key initiatives that are also integral to the Union campus.