University of Michigan
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May 22, 2019

Obituary: Roger Fleming Hackett

November 1, 2017

Obituary: Roger Fleming Hackett

Topic: Obituaries

Roger Fleming Hackett, emeritus professor of history at the University of Michigan and pioneer in the field of Asian studies, died Oct. 26 in Ann Arbor. He was 95 years old.

Hackett was born Oct. 23, 1922, in Kobe, Japan, where his father, an educational-administrative missionary, was treasurer of Kobe College. He grew up, alongside his sister Elizabeth and brothers Harold and David, speaking Japanese and learning, through close daily contact, the culture of the family’s Japanese neighbors. He received his early schooling at the Canadian Academy in Kobe. Hackett was always an athlete, basketball and soccer early on, swimming in college, tennis and squash in later years.

Roger Fleming Hackett

In the fall of 1940, Hackett left Japan to enter Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he joined the Navy and was among a select group of young men admitted to the U.S. Navy’s Japanese Language School at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Following his graduation in 1943, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and subsequently served as an intelligence officer in the Pacific theater. Following service with the allied occupation force, he returned to Carleton, met and married Caroline Gray, graduated Phi Beta Kappa and went on to Harvard to earn his Ph.D. in history.

Hackett was among a postwar generation of scholars who brought East Asian Studies into the curriculum of American universities. In 1953, he joined the history faculty at Northwestern University where his responsibility was to teach undergraduate courses in the emerging field of East Asian history. Six years later he became the editor of the Journal of Asian Studies through which he nurtured and shaped the emerging field.

In 1961, with an opportunity to narrow his focus to Japan and work with graduate students, Hackett joined the history department at U-M, serving as its chair from 1975-77. As a core member of Michigan’s Center for Japanese Studies, serving twice as its director, Hackett supervised dozens of Ph.D. theses that contributed to a rapidly expanding scholarship on modern Japan. His particular research interests in the role of the military in Meiji and early Taisho history, the involvement of Americans in modern Japanese history, and the history of the Japanese treaty ports resulted in scholarly contributions to professional journals and books as well as fellowships from various organizations.

After his retirement in 1993, Hackett pursued an active life, offering workshops on Japan to secondary school teachers, taking college classes, participating in Center for Japanese Studies events, volunteering for various causes, attending music concerts, playing and socializing with his tennis friends, traveling abroad and enveloping his extended family with interest and love.

Survivors include Caroline, his wife of 71 years, their three children, Anne, of Adrian, Michigan; David of Gainesville, Florida; and Brian, of Lake Ridge, Virginia; seven grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

— Submitted by Geoff Eley, chair, Department of History