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Reviewed by:
  • Network of Knowledge: Western Science and the Tokugawa Information Revolution by Terrence Jackson
  • Ellen Nakamura (bio)
Network of Knowledge: Western Science and the Tokugawa Information Revolution. By Terrence Jackson. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 2016. viii, 198 pages. $55.00.

More than ten years ago, Terrence Jackson signaled in a review of the present writer's monograph that there was "still work to be done" on the relation between the spread of knowledge relating to Dutch studies (rangaku) and social, cultural, and intellectual networks in Tokugawa Japan.1 In Network of Knowledge, Jackson at last puts forward his own perspective on this question. The book is an interesting study based loosely on the life and times of Otsuki Gentaku (1757–1827), one of the most important founding figures of the Dutch studies movement, and the application of a sociological analysis using social network theory and the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu. Social networks, were, according to Jackson, essential to the development and spread of Dutch studies in Japan, and Bourdieusian theory can provide a framework that reveals the "structures, motives, and actions" (p. 150) of those who participated in the movement.

Ōtsuki Gentaku will be familiar to many of those working in the field of the history of medicine and Dutch studies. He is most famous as the author of Rangaku kaitei (1788), a basic introductory text for the study of [End Page 431] Dutch language, and as the founder of the Shirandō, the first school for the study of rangaku, established in 1786. He was also renowned for his parties celebrating the Dutch New Year, the wonders of which were recorded in the diaries of participants and commemorated in pictorial form. The splendid painting that Gentaku himself commissioned graces the cover of Jackson's attractive book.

One of the first scholars to write about Gentaku in English was Donald Keene, whose classic work, The Japanese Discovery of Europe, 1720–1830 (1969), overlaps significantly with the time frame chosen by Jackson and whose engaging translations of Gentaku's writings he cites. Keene, writing in the 1950s and 1960s, operated within the theoretical framework of modernization and was interested in the intellectual activities of Dutch studies scholars, their views of the West, and their relationship to the kokugaku movement which developed around the same time. Like Keene, Jackson sees the period between 1770 and 1830 as one of critical importance for the establishment of Dutch studies in Japan, but he tries to explain its importance in social terms. He is not concerned with what scholars learned or the contents of the texts they wrote, but how scholars, in combination with interested parties from a variety of social backgrounds, came to operate as an intellectual community. Or as Jackson himself puts it, he is interested in the question of "how social ties, power, and status shaped the production of knowledge" (p. 2).

Jackson is not the first scholar to consider the importance of such social networks to the spread of knowledge about the West. The private circulation of knowledge, manuscripts, and smallpox vaccine was especially important to rangaku scholars because of the wariness with which the shogunal authorities viewed their activities. In relation to the diffusion of medical knowledge, for example, Umihara Ryō and Ann Jannetta have explored social networks in some detail, pointing to the role of both scholarly lineages (gakutō) and the development of more extensive horizontal networks, especially by those who studied first in the cities and then returned to the countryside to teach.2 Curiously, Jackson does not cite these works. Rather, he draws upon the work of Eiko Ikegami to explore ideas such as "enclave publics," salon society, and the Tokugawa information revolution as they related to the establishment of the rangaku community.

The book begins with a lucid overview of the relationship between the Dutch and the Japanese in the Tokugawa era and an introduction to the VOC (Dutch East India Company) members, physicians, translators, and scholars [End Page 432] who participated in the early rangaku community at Dejima (Deshima). Jackson lays out the two main points of his book. First, Ōtsuki Gentaku played a leading role in the establishment of the rangaku community...


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pp. 431-435
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