Cameron Hurst, East Asian Studies

G. Cameron Hurst, III, historian of Japan and Korea, passed away on June 30 in Philadelphia at the age of 75.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, “Cappy,” as he was known, arrived at Penn in 1995, recruited by the late William R. LaFleur, when the department was called Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Dr. Hurst became the first chair of the newly formed East Asian Languages and Civilizations in 2005, which since has almost doubled in size on the groundwork that he laid. He took the lead in energizing East Asian studies at Penn, which grew in Chinese and Japanese social sciences and moved toward critical mass in Korean studies from his efforts. He was known for his dynamism in program development. He joined the faculty at the University of Kansas in 1969 before he was 30, and spent two decades there as professor of history and East Asian studies, becoming director of KU’s Center for East Asian Studies as well as chair of the department of East Asian languages and cultures.

He was a prolific scholar; his study Insei: Abdicated Sovereigns in the Politics of Late Heian Japan, 1086-1185, published by Columbia University Press in 1976, is still widely consulted in the field. In addition to his focus on the institutional history of medieval Japan, he was a leading scholar of the martial arts, publishing Armed Martial Arts of Japan: Swordsmanship and Archery with Yale University Press in 1998. His essays, such as a chapter on “The K?bu Polity: Court-Bakufu Relations in Kamakura Japan” in Jeffrey P. Mass’ Court and Bakufu in Japan (Yale University Press, 1982), “Death, Honor, and Loyalty: The Bushid? Ideal,” (Philosophy East and West, 1990), and “The Warrior as Ideal for a New Age,” in The Origins of Japan’s Medieval World, edited by Jeffrey P. Mass (Stanford University Press, 1997), contributed substantially to the reconsideration of Japanese history. He also published translations from the Japanese. His essay “Kugy? and Zury?: Center and Periphery in the Era of Fujiwara no Michinaga” for Heian Japan, Centers and Peripheries, a volume from a conference for which he was part of the planning committee, came out from University of Hawaii Press in 2007.

He was dedicated to analyzing and even intervening in contemporary history as well, often publishing opinion pieces in news outlets such as the Korea Times, the Japan Times and the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal, as well as contributing to and advising media outlets in the United States. He was one of only a few academics who could speak to both Japanese and the Korean audiences, having acquired subject knowledge and facility in Korean language that nearly matched his prodigious skills in Japanese.

Education outside the university was a keen interest of his: he helped groups develop a better understanding of and enthusiasm for Japan and East Asia. He founded and led teachers from middle and high schools to Japan in 1997 on the first Phila-Nipponica program, which over the course of 18 years introduced 160 teachers from the greater Philadelphia area to Japan and then guided them in the production of curricular materials, so as to have an impact on over 50,000 students. He also led the Japan Seminar, a program that similarly selected college and university professors who were not Japan specialists from around the nation and enabled them to add courses about Japan to their institutions’ curricula.

He served as a visiting professor at the University of Washington in Seattle in the early 1980s, a faculty associate for Universities Field Staff International, on the Semester at Sea program, at teaching positions in Seoul, and as the Japan Foundation Visiting Professor at the University of Hong Kong. He also spent terms directing the Associated Kyoto Program housed at D?shisha University, held a directorship at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, and was dean at CUNY Lehman Hiroshima College from 1990-1992. He was a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute as well.

He graduated from Stanford University with a BA in history and Japanese in 1963. He took his MA in East Asian studies at the University of Hawaii in 1966, and then earned his PhD in East Asian Language and Cultures at Columbia University in 1972 after study at the Stanford Center, Keio University, the University of Kyoto and the University of Tokyo.

The late Fukushima Keid? R?shi, head of the T?fukuji Zen sect headquartered in Kyoto, toured the US annually, including KU and later Penn at Dr. Hurst’s invitation. The master always joked that when he was first introduced to Haasuto-sensei (as Dr. Hurst was pronounced in Japanese), so rapid-fire was Dr. Hurst’s spoken Japanese that he thought people were calling him Faasuto-sensei (Dr. Speedy). Kamikawa Rikuz?, the legendary tutor of generations of Japanologists, referred to Haasuto-kun as the Shinkansen, the speeding bullet train of linguists.

The wide web of those who felt privileged to know Cappy is attested in the festschrift organized in his honor by the distinguished historian Karl Friday, Japan Emerging: Premodern History to 1830 (Westview Press, 2012). Dr. Friday notes the scores of symposia and conference panels and guest lectures that Cappy organized or delivered, and his mentorship of hundreds of students and junior colleagues, concluding that “It would be no exaggeration to say that there are very few students or scholars of Japan whose lives and work have not been touched by Cappy’s efforts.”

Dr. Hurst is survived by his wife, Nayop (“Chini”) Hurst, their son, Mark and daughter, Dylan Mira; his first wife, Carol; their son, Ian, his wife, Hannah and three grandchildren, Henry, Annabelle and Theodore; and a brother, Stuart.