E.H. Norman

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  • Born: 1909
  • Died: 1957

E. Herbert Norman was a historian of Japan, and Canadian diplomat, known in particular for his 1940 book Japan's Emergence as a Modern State, and 1943 essay Soldier and Peasant in Japan: The Origins of Conscription. These works were both prominent and influential, if not seminal, elements of the scholarship on modern Japan (and the Meiji period in particular) into the late 20th century.

Norman committed suicide in Cairo in 1957; his persecution by the team of US Senator Joseph McCarthy, who accused Norman of Communist sympathies, is said to have contributed significantly to Norman's decision to end his life.

Early Life

Norman grew up in Nagano prefecture, the son of missionary parents, becoming therefore fluent in both English and Japanese at an early age. He left Japan in his mid-teens, and studied at Victoria College in Toronto and Trinity College in Cambridge, where he focused chiefly on ancient and medieval European history before turning to Japanese history and earning his PhD in that field at Harvard University. He also studied briefly at Columbia University, and read Latin, Greek, French, and German, as well as, to some extent, Italian and Chinese.

On August 31, 1935, he married Laura Irene Clark.


Japan's Emergence as a Modern State was first published in 1940, when Norman was 31 years of age. John Dower writes that this publication established him, at that time, as the pre-eminent scholar of modern Japan in the West. A Japanese translation of the text was published in 1947. Soldier and Peasant in Japan, published originally in 1943, and then in Japanese in 1948, is said to have been even more influential in Japan than in the West. His 1949 study of 18th century intellectual Andô Shôeki, similarly, has attracted very little attention in the West, but has been seen by Japanese scholars as possessing originality and importance.

Norman served as a diplomat for the Canadian government simultaneously, throughout this period of his scholarly output. In 1947-49, he served as a private tutor for Prince Mikasa, one of the Shôwa Emperor's younger brothers.

Investigation & Death

In 1951-52, the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR), one of the preeminent international organizations devoted to East Asian Studies at that time, became a target of anti-Communist investigations in the United States led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Norman became implicated within these investigations after Karl August Wittfogel, a historian of China, former Marxist and now fierce anti-Communist, gave testimony on August 7, 1951, that he knew Norman to have been actively a Communist in 1938. In total, 46 individuals associated with the IPR were implicated in this manner.

Norman had subjected himself to investigation by Canadian authorities in 1950, a year prior, an experience which he later said left him [mentally] scarred and demoralized, but which resulted in the Canadian authorities concluding he was not a Communist, and that his loyalty and integrity were undoubted. These documents were later shared with the US government, as part of broader security/intelligence sharing agreements. However, Norman was never interviewed or otherwise directly investigated by the American committees, beyond that his name was discussed, and that the Canadian government issued formal statements defending him.

On September 8, 1951, even as those investigations continued, Norman accompanied Canadian Secretary of State Lester Pearson to the signing of the Treaty of San Francisco, in the capacity of Pearson's chief advisor. Immediately after signing the Treaty for Canada, Pearson is said to have given the pen to Norman as a gift.

Norman was appointed High Commissioner to New Zealand in 1953, a post he served in until 1956, when he was reassigned to Cairo, as Canadian Ambassador to Egypt. The Suez Crisis developed very shortly afterwards; following the invasion of Egypt by British, French, and Israeli forces, Norman is said to have played a key role in convincing Gamal Abdel Nasser to allow UN peacekeeping troops into the country.

The McCarthyist committees returned to the topic of E.H. Norman in 1957, issuing a press release on March 14 including a segment of the transcript of their discussions. The Canadian government reaffirmed its support for Norman, and its assertions of his loyalty and integrity, and issued a strong statement of protest against this slandering of one of its citizens and high officials. On March 26 & 27, Norman's former classmate at Harvard, Tsuru Shigeto, was interrogated, and various details of Communist study groups in which Tsuru and Norman participated in the 1930s were discussed.

Reportedly mentally and spiritually exhausted from the Suez affair, Norman is said to have expressed to Pearson feelings that these continued accusations could only do harm to his government, and to the fragile peace in the Middle East. After discussions with a doctor, Norman was persuaded to take a holiday, and he began to make the necessary arrangements.

On the morning of April 4, 1957, he took the elevator to the roof of a friend's apartment building in Cairo, and stepped off the edge. Memorial services were held in Tokyo, and elsewhere. He was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, next to the famous English poet Percy Shelley.

Most of Norman's writings, including several unfinished or otherwise previously unpublished, are collected in a volume entitled Origins of the Modern Japanese State, published in 1975.


  • 1940 - Japan's Emergence as a Modern State
  • 1943 - Soldier and Peasant in Japan: The Origins of Conscription
  • 1945 - Feudal Background of Japanese Politics[1]
  • 1947 - Japanese translation of Japan's Emergence as a Modern State
  • 1948 - Japanese translation of Soldier and Peasant in Japan: The Origins of Conscription
  • 1949 - Andô Shôeki and the Anatomy of Japanese Feudalism
  • 1949 - Japanese translation of Andô Shôeki and the Anatomy of Japanese Feudalism
  • 1956 - Kurio no Kao ("The Face of Clio") - a collection of general historiographical essays published in Japanese scholarly journals in the years prior.


  • John Dower, "E.H. Norman, Japan and the Uses of History," in Dower (ed.), Origins of the Modern Japanese State: Selected Writings of E.H. Norman, New York: Pantheon Books (1975), 3-101.
  1. Prepared in 1944, and presented at the 1945 Hot Springs conference of the Institute of Pacific Relations. Never published as a monograph; two essays derived from this manuscript, "Mass Hysteria in Japan" and "The Genyôsha: A Study in the Origins of Japanese Imperialism", were later published in the 1975 collection of Norman's writings.