Ann Waswo, 1940-2020

Dr Ann Waswo

17 May 1940 to 21 September 2020

We are sorry to announce that Dr Ann Waswo passed away at the John Radcliffe hospital on Monday 21 September. 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 also of St Antony’s College.

Ann grew up in Southern California, initially in Los Angeles, with her parents, Silvia Schulman Lardner - whose experience as secretary to producer David O. Selznick, Silvia drew on 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. The efficient working and pleasing appearance of the Institute building also owes much to her hard work and concern over many years.

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 brevity; her OUP book on Modern Japanese Society is less than two hundred pages long and was, for many years, the Lonely Planet Japan’s recommendation for the best introduction to Japanese history and society. 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 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.

Ann had important roles in St Antony’s College, including Sub-Warden for two years, and she tackled some of the most complex challenges which the college faced. She drafted college policies on many issues and undertook a complete rewrite of the College statutes which were subsequently approved by Privy Council. 

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.

Roger Goodman

Nissan Professor of Modern Japanese Studies and

Warden, St Antony’s College