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Otago historian wins prestigious and significant prize in Japan

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Monday 11 November 2013 8:56am

Takashi-ShogimenAssociate Professor Takashi Shogimen

An Otago lecturer in History has won Japan’s most prestigious prize for scholars in humanities with his book, written in Japanese, on the birth of European political thought in medieval times.

It was announced in Japan today (tonight, 9pm NZ time) that Associate Professor Takashi Shogimen has won the 2013 Suntory Prize for Social Sciences and Humanities (History and Civilisation Section), with his book in Japanese, Yoroppa Seiji Shiso Tanjo (The Birth of European Political Thought).


The prize is awarded in Japan each year to individuals who have made “original, distinguished contributions” in humanities and social sciences through publications in the Japanese language – regardless of the country of residence of the author.

Associate Professor Shogimen says he is delighted and honoured to receive the prize-winning plaque, and two million yen ($25,000 NZ) in prize money, which he will be awarded at a ceremony in Tokyo on 10 December.

“I am honoured and proud to have won this both for myself, and for the University of Otago. I am particularly pleased that this reflects so well on our University, which will become better known in Japan for its leading research as a result of this prize. This is a major award in Japan and always brings profile to whoever wins it, and their institution,” he says.

“And it generates the opportunity for me to write more books for both specialist and lay readership.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie, says the announcement of the prize for Associate Professor Shogimen is “outstanding news”.

“We are always very proud when our researchers achieve awards and recognition at the highest national and international levels in their disciplines,” says Professor Blaikie.

“And it cannot go without mention that Takashi’s award is also a major accolade in Japan for the University of Otago generally, as our reputation for outstanding excellence in scholarship has been enhanced by the award of this most prestigious prize to one of our scholars.”

Associate Professor Shogimen was born in Japan and earned his undergraduate degree in Law and Political Science at Keio University in Tokyo. With his thirst for knowledge of medieval history of the West already garnered through his learning in Japan, he went on to complete PhD studies at the University of Sheffield in the UK, becoming a research fellow at Cambridge University and specialising there in medieval European history.

“Medieval political thought is fascinating because it is still relevant to modern-day society. Medieval scholars discussed some of the core problems of human life, and I discuss some of these issues in the book – tyranny and corruption, for example, and how we all deal with them,” he says.

He came to Otago’s History and Art History Department to teach medieval European papers in 2004. He has now been with the University for ten years – most recently taking up the position of Associate Dean (Research) in the Division of Humanities.

He says the prize-winning book, published in August this year by the University of Nagoya Press, and on sale in Japan, is popular and already in re-print. The book was a spin-off from earlier Marsden-funded research into the origins of European political thought.

“Medieval political thought has long been considered to be impenetrable by Japanese historians, so I tried to make the book as accessible as possible and to provide a birds-eye view of the history of medieval political thought as a process in the making of European political thinking,” says Associate Professor Shogimen.

“It is important to people who live in Japan to understand this – especially when you consider that Westernisation became a major part of Japanese history after the mid 19th century. It became an imperative to understand European culture in order to understand modern Japan and its history. European culture is integral to self-understanding. And its genesis was in the middle ages.”

For further information, contact

Takashi Shogimen
Associate Professor in History
Associate Dean (Research) for Humanities
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 4164

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