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Dower granted major ‘lifetime achievement’ award in history

MIT professor recognized as ‘pre-eminent scholar’ in East Asian history.
John Dower
John Dower

MIT historian John Dower has won the American Historical Association’s (AHA) prestigious Award for Scholarly Distinction, one of the highest forms of career recognition in the field.

The award is being given for “lifetime achievement in the discipline,” the AHA stated in a news release, and will be formally announced in January at the association’s 128th annual meeting, in Washington.

The AHA described Dower as a “pre-eminent scholar in East Asian history” who has “won acclaim as a teacher, and has been equally engaged with audiences beyond the campus.”

Dower said he was gratified by the distinction, and called it unexpected.

“It’s a great honor,” he told MIT News. “I was surprised. It is a nice feeling.”

Dower, the Ford International Professor Emeritus of History, joined MIT in 1991. His research, conducted in both English and Japanese, has largely focused on Japanese history, and on the history and memory of World War II. His path-breaking work on the reconstruction of Japan after the war made the case that the country had been rebuilt on a “hybrid Japanese-American model” of democratic capitalism; his research has also demonstrated the role that racial animus played in intensifying the fighting between the United States and Japan during World War II.

In four decades as a professor, Dower’s books have won a litany of prizes. His 1986 work “War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction, while his 1999 book “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II” won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, the National Book Award for nonfiction, and the Bancroft Prize, one of the most esteemed awards for works of history.

More recently, Dower’s 2010 book, “Cultures of War,” a cross-cultural look at militarism and the imagery of war in society, was a finalist for the National Book Award for nonfiction.

Dower said that the AHA award was “very nice as personal recognition, but it’s very gratifying that it brings attention to MIT. We are known for science and technology, but we have very good programs in the social sciences and humanities, and the award reflects that.”

At MIT, as the AHA citation notes, Dower has also helped direct the “Visualizing Cultures” project, which has assembled a large collection of visual materials for students and scholars. The project was initiated in 2002 with MIT funding for course development, something that “reflects on MIT’s creativity,” Dower said.

Dower previously taught at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, from 1971 to 1985, and the University of California at San Diego, from 1985 to 1991. He is being given the Award for Scholarly Distinction this year along with Patricia Buckley Ebrey, of the University of Washington, and Walter LaFeber, of Cornell University.

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