Prestigious Chair strengthens Australia-Japan relations

A long held fascination with the Japanese Red Cross has led to an unparalleled research opportunity for a leading Australian scholar to bring a western perspective to a little explored chapter of Japan’s 20th century history.

Chair of History at Flinders University Professor Melanie Oppenheimer has been appointed the 2018-19 Visiting Professor in Australian Studies at the Centre for Pacific and American Studies (CPAS) at the University of Tokyo.

Professor Oppenheimer is leading a major new research project with Flinders and international scholars that involves the Japanese Red Cross, and this prestigious position at the highly ranked University of Tokyo will afford her unrivalled access to important historical documents in Japanese archives.

“The Japanese Red Cross is one of the oldest and largest national Red Cross societies and in 1919 was one of five founding members of the League of Red Cross Societies. However, it has been historicised largely by Japanese historians, and its importance somewhat sidelined compared to the European and American Red Cross Societies.”

“It’s a tantalising prospect to be one of the first Australians to explore these hidden archival treasures, which will bring a richer understanding of the evolving connections between Japan and Australia.”

“In particular, I want to explore the role Japan played in the professionalisation of nursing in the 1920s and 30s. Japanese Red Cross operates nursing colleges and hospitals, quite a different model to that in Australia and many European Red Cross Societies. By living and studying in Japan, I’ll be able to immerse myself and look at this from the other side, something no number of fleeting research visits can match.

“With shared social welfare challenges around ageing populations, I’m also looking forward to gaining insights into the similarities between Japan and Australia, not just through Red Cross, but also agencies such as Meals on Wheels – in fact Meals on Wheels Japan is based on SA’s Meals on Wheels model developed in the 1970s.”

Professor Oppenheimer’s research has spanned voluntary action, volunteering, gender and war, humanitarianism, and the history of the Australian Red Cross and the broader Red Cross Movement.

Professor Oppenheimer is delighted that the Visiting Chair facilitates teaching and engagement, and will enable her to teach topics on Australian history, Australian migration and immigration, Australian cinema, humanitarianism, volunteerism in Australia and Japan, and Australian Japan post-war relations.

She is also excited to have the privilege of witnessing a momentous historical event as it happens.

“The retirement of the Emperor of Japan in 2019 is going to be a huge event in Japan and a huge event globally – and my presence in Tokyo at that time provides an opportunity for an Australian perspective.”

For its support of the Visiting Chair Professor Oppenheimer expresses her thanks to the Australia-Japan Foundation – a non-statutory, bilateral foundation established in 1976 in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with the aim of strengthening and further developing Australia-Japan relations.

Professor Oppenheimer will take up the Chair in September 2018, returning to Australia in July 2019.

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