Education About Asia: Online Archives

Edwin O. Reischauer and the American Discovery of Japan

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BY GEORGE R. PACKARD
NEW YORK: COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2010
368 PAGES, ISBN: 978-0231143547, HARDBACK

Reviewed by Robert Fish

Is there a social studies teacher who has never been asked, “Why does studying history matter?” Edwin O. Reischauer’s career illustrates the direct impact history and “academic” ideas can have on contemporary life. George R. Packard’s Edwin O. Reischauer and the American Discovery of Japan guides the reader through the relationship between abstract ideas, historical scholarship, and real life. This study encapsulates key concepts central to the social studies classroom. Namely, what is the importance of an individual versus larger forces in influencing the course of history? How are moral judgments influenced by the historical context in which they are made? Why should an American bother to learn about the rest of the world? Reischauer confronted these questions directly in both his scholarship and diplomatic career, and his decisions were sometimes the source of virulent debate during the course of his lifetime. Packard’s sympathetic, but for the most part balanced, portrayal of Reischauer’s life provides teachers concrete grist to help their students confront all of the above questions.