Campus News

Thomas Conlan Publishes Book, Receives NEH Fellowship for Study in Japan

Story posted March 12, 2001

Thomas Conlan, assistant professor of Asian studies and history, will find his new book coming out at just about the same time that he will be heading off to Japan for a year of research.

Conlan’s book, In Little Need of Divine Intervention, which looks at the attempted Mongol invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281, is forthcoming from the Cornell East Asia Series (a subdivision of Cornell Press). Meanwhile, he has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities for research in Kyoto, Japan, for the summer of 2001 through summer of 2002. He will be conducting research for the dissertation “From Sovereign to Symbol: A Liturgical Lexicon of Legitimacy in Fourteenth Century Japan.”

The topic for his upcoming book came about from his research into warfare in 14th-century Japan, and the reconstruction of how warriors fought. His research brought him in contact with 13th-century scrolls, which are primary sources of information on the Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281. A particular scroll, created by order of a warrior named Takezaki Suenaga, had never before been translated. Conlan began translating, and his work spontaneously became a book. (These scrolls were not created to boast of accomplishments, but rather as a means to give thanks for the warrior’s rewards.)

The book will be published in “Japanese order,” meaning it will be read from back to front, to more accurately reconstruct the invasion images. Although it has commonly been thought that a typhoon slamming into the Mongol fleet led to their defeat in the invasions, Conlan shows that the Japanese were capable of fighting the Mongols to a standstill without any need of divine intervention. Nevertheless, they attributed their success, and the chance strike of a typhoon, to "otherworldly" intervention, which is why they paid homage to the "divine winds" or kamakaze.

Meanwhile, Conlan’s sabbatical will find him studying temple records in Japan as he continues to work on the aforementioned 14th-century warfare dissertation (to be published in 2002). Conlan describes this dissertation as “looking at knowledge” and the profound intellectual change that came about starting in the 14th century. The work will focus on the three distinct types of knowledge that dictated how the Japanese would react to different situations: Precedent (reacting based on information recorded in diaries up to the 14th century); Ritual Magic (to lend legitimacy to what they did, through the 16th century); and Deductive Knowledge (based on Japanese history, which came about by the 17th century).

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