Although scholars have emphasized the importance of women’s networks for civil society in twentieth-century Japan, Women and Networks in Nineteenth-Century Japan is the first book to tackle the subject for the contentious and consequential nineteenth century. The essays traverse the divide when Japan started transforming itself from a decentralized to a centralized government, from legally imposed restrictions on movement to the breakdown of travel barriers, and from ad hoc schooling to compulsory elementary school education. As these essays suggest, such changes had a profound impact on women and their roles in networks. Rather than pursue a common methodology, the authors take diverse approaches to this topic that open up fruitful avenues for further exploration.
Most of the essays in this volume are by Japanese scholars; their inclusion here provides either an introduction to their work or the opportunity to explore their scholarship further. Because women are often invisible in historical documentation, the authors use a range of sources (such as diaries, letters, and legal documents) to reconstruct the familial, neighborhood, religious, political, work, and travel networks that women maintained, constructed, or found themselves in, sometimes against their will. In so doing, most but not all of the authors try to decenter historical narratives built on men’s activities and men’s occupational and status-based networks, and instead recover women’s activities in more localized groupings and personal associations.
Praise / Awards
“Women and Networks in Nineteenth-Century Japan is an eye-opening, erudite, and engaging collection of archivally based stories. The webs of relationships the authors reconstruct, even when women themselves have been silent or left few traces, suggest that history should attend to such networks and webs as much as it does to states. Women and their networks were key to sustaining and shaping humanity, this book makes us believe, not just in Japan but across the globe.”
—Bonnie G. Smith, Rutgers University
“This book gives Anglophone readers new access to the richness and range of work by pioneering Japanese historians of women. Its diverse but related chapters offer valuable new insight into the connections that women forged among themselves—and with men—across the land in many realms: religion, work, and political life.”
—Andrew Gordon, Harvard University