Spotlight on the Collection: The History of Japan

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 1:36pm -- baglio

Our spotlight on the collection blog today has been provided by our Salve Regina volunteer Katherine A. Cassetta. It focuses on one of the titles from our Original Collection, Engelberto Kaempfero's The History of Japan: : Giving an Account of the Antient and Present State and Government of That Empire; of its Temples, Palaces, Castles, and Other Buildings; of its Metals, Minerals, Trees, Plants, Animals, Birds, and Fishes; of the Chronology and Succession of the Emperors, Ecclesiastical and Secular; of the Original Descent, Religions, Customs and Manufactures of the Natives, and of Their Trade and Commerce with the Dutch and Chinese. Together with a Description of the Kingdom of Siam.

Author Engelberto Kaempfero was born in Lemgo, Germany on September 16 th , 1651. His studies led

him to become a physician. Foreign languages were included as part of his studies, and he always

wanted to see foreign countries, particularly those in the East like Persia and Japan.

In May 1690, he had the chance to travel to Japan as part of the Embassy sent by the Dutch East

India Company and was sent as a physician to the Embassy. Foreigners at this time had to stay on the

island Deshima, which was close to Nagasaki. They were not allowed to travel any farther into Japan, and

the Dutch East India Company were the only Westerners from Europe allowed to have a trading station

in Japan.

Kaempfero stayed in Japan until 1692. During this time, he gave help and medicine to the Japanese

people due to his knowledge as a physician. He also recorded observations that he made and talked to

the people who lived there. Along with written observations, he made drawings. At this time, however,

the Shogunate had forbid their people to talk to foreigners about Japan’s affairs or for any information

about Japan to reach foreigners.

Drawings from the History of Japan (photos by Brandon Aglio)

When Engelberto returned to Europe, he intended to organize and publish his observations.

However, he was unable to due to his work as the Count de Lippe’s physician and his own family. He was

also unable to find a publisher. He died on November 2nd in 1716 of fever.

His nephew sold his written observations, and they ended up with Sir Hans Sloane, a scientist

who also collected literature. Changes as well as eliminations were made, but the manuscript was

translated into English and published in 1727.

The History of Japan was a text chosen and purchased to be part of the original collection of the

Redwood Library in 1748. This two volume set exposed this isolated nation to the people of Newport.

Over 100 years later, Newport resident Matthew Perry would be sent by the US government to

negotiate trade with Japan, eventually opening up a world of culture to America as well. Up until then,

this two volume set provided some of the best knowledge about Japan’s history and culture.


Be sure to visit the Redwood Library and Athenaeum to see the History of Japan and other wonderful titles gracing the shelves of our historic Harrison Room.