SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

WG Beasley Memorial Lecture

William Beasley
Professor William Gerald Beasley (1919–2006)

Professor William Gerald Beasley (1919–2006) was a leading figure in the development of Japanese Studies in Britain. He was appointed to the post of Lecturer in Far Eastern History at SOAS, University of London in 1947, and was appointed in 1954, at the very young age of 35, to the post of Professor of the History of the Far East. During his tenure at SOAS Professor Beasley headed the History and Far East departments and was the first Chair of the SOAS Centre of Far Eastern Studies and, later, the founding Chair of the Japanese Research Centre (1978-83). In 1967 he was appointed a Fellow of the British Academy and served as the academy's Vice-President (1974-75) and Treasurer (1975-79).
W.G. Beasley pioneered the introduction of Japanese history in British universities and was deeply committed to communicating knowledge of Japan to a wider audience. He was well respected as the author of many books on Japanese history. Beasley's best known work was his popular survey, originally entitled The Modern History of Japan (1963), later republished in an amended form as The Rise of Modern Japan (1990). It is a rare achievement for a survey textbook to be in print for more than 40 years; it was even recently translated into Chinese.

His most important publication, however, is generally agreed to be The Meiji Restoration (1972), which remains a significant contribution to scholarly understanding of Japan's nineteenth century transformation into a centralised, modernised nation-state. Focusing on events of the 1860s and 1870s, The Meiji Restoration is ambitious for its deft study of a large number of political actors as well as the power centres with which they were involved.

Professor Beasley retired in 1983 to write and travel, and his contributions to the profession in retirement were phenomenal. After Japanese Imperialism, 1894-1945 (1991), he published Japan Encounters the Barbarian: Japanese travellers in America and Europe (1995). Four years later, he completed The Japanese Experience (1999), a succinct history of Japan from the incursion of Buddhism to the fall of Imperial Japan. In 2001 Beasley published his Collected Writings, a selection of articles and reviews that included a fascinating memoir. He was appointed CBE in 1980, to the Order of the Rising Sun (Third Class) in 1983 and Honorary Member of the Japan Academy in 1984. Professor Beasley was awarded the Japan Foundation Prize in 2001.

William Gerald Beasley, historian, was born 22 December 1919 and passed away 29 November 2006.

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