David Spafford

A Sense of Place

The Political Landscape in Late Medieval Japan

Harvard University Asia Center 2013

New Books in East Asian StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network January 7, 2014 Carla Nappi

So many history books take for granted that a story about the past needs to focus on change (gradual or dramatic, transformative or subtle)...

So many history books take for granted that a story about the past needs to focus on change (gradual or dramatic, transformative or subtle) as its motivating narrative and argumentative core. In A Sense of Place: The Political Landscape in Late Medieval Japan (Harvard University Asia Center, 2013), David Spafford gives us a beautifully different kind of story. The five main chapters of the book each explore how provincial elites in the Kantō region of late medieval Japan considered and produced space, with each chapter focusing on a particular sphere – that of literature, law, patrimony, war, or governance – in which this occurred, and together weaving an account of richness and depth.

Focusing on the years between 1455-1525, Spafford argues that a kind of “persistent medieval” shaped the discussions, debates, and decisions made over space and spatiality by the people living in this context of widespread armed conflict. As memoir-keeping monks, itinerant poets, and members of politically important families concerned themselves and each other with the changing flows of local, familial, and institutional prestige, those concerns directly shaped (and were in turn shaped by) changing configurations of the landscape. From the grasses of Musashino to archaeological excavations of old military encampments, the spaces of A Sense of Place are wonderfully varied and Spafford’s account of them is careful to emphasize the productive tensions that helped sustain them. Together they offer an unparalleled view into the spatial lives of late medieval Kantō. Enjoy!

08 January 2014 – Here’s a brief addendum care of the author:

In the course of interview I referred to a number of literary scholars who have worked on poetry in late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Japan. Among them, I erroneously and regrettably named Professor Paul Carter. While Paul Carter is the author of a work cited in the same chapter, I meant to cite the authority on late medieval Japanese poetry, Professor Steven Carter. – David Spafford

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