English / Japanese

[Department of British and American Studies, School of Foreign Studies]
Professor OHNO Makoto

I want students to widen the field of possibilities by actively seeking out exchanges with other universities and links with actual society.

Staring From a Setback on the Path to Becoming a Researcher

My highest academic degree is from the Graduate School of Letters at Nagoya University, but I am originally from the School of Engineering. I stayed in the School of Engineering until my master’s and then transferred to the graduate school at the University of Tokyo. My reason for going there was to study the history of science and the philosophy of science, but before I enrolled, my former teacher and mentor in the history of science at the School of Liberal Arts at Nagoya University handed me the minutes of The Royal Institution of Great Britain and said, “You might want to take a look at these materials.” That decided my fate.

When it came to the history of science, scientific theory was the main subject at that time, but I was more interested in the social history of science, so I thought, “This is interesting. I want to translate it.” In those days, I was working as a part-time lecturer at a high school, but as soon as I got home from work, I poured over the minutes, translating them and taking notes, as I immersed myself in research to the exclusion of all else. As a result, I developed tenosynovitis and couldn’t hold a pen normally, so much so that I wrapped my hand in bandages. I had never studied that much in my life before. The reason why I was able to become so engrossed in it was because I was the only person in Japan who had seen those minutes, so I felt like a kind of trailblazer. The moment I entered the University of Tokyo, however, a book was published: Morris Berman’s Social Change and Scientific Organization: The Royal Institution, 1799-1844. I was shocked. For the book was based on a dissertation about The Royal Institution and it clearly demonstrated that the materials I had been looking at were only a fraction of the ones that the author had used. It’s not that he had beaten me to it; he had beaten me by miles. Although I experienced a setback at the starting line, the things I studied so frantically at that time were not in vain. I changed direction a bit and decided to research an organization that predated the founding of The Royal Institution at the end of the eighteenth century.

Presenting the Results of My Research in Writing

Modern British history and the history of science are my main research topics, but I am particularly interested in scientific technology and industrial arts after modernization. The world’s first World’s Fair was held in London in 1851, but it was The Royal Society of Arts that ran it in substance. Founded just before the industrial revolution, this society did not produce new technology on its own. Rather, it was a group that gave out prize money by soliciting entries across a wide range of fields, from agriculture to chemistry, commerce, the manufacturing industry, and painting. By following the formation and activities of this society, it is possible to reconsider and reevaluate the English industrial revolution from the side of the industrial arts. Recently, as part of an international joint research project supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research, I have compiled a book entitled Public Sphere in Modern Britain, which brings together papers by researchers inside and outside Japan, including my paper elucidating the state of the public sphere in modern Britain.

Then there is Newton’s apple tree, which still grows in the garden of his former home in Britain, and is thought to be the inspiration for the discovery of universal gravitation. One of its offspring is in the University of Tokyo’s Koishikawa Botanical Gardens, and I presented a short paper entitled “When Newton’s Apple Tree…Became a Memorial Tree” that examined the circumstances of how it made it to Japan. In these and other ways, I am focusing my efforts on my writing activities.

Inter-Seminar Student Conferences are Outside Games Against Other Universities

In collaboration with a number of seminars in the Nagoya area, we have been holding an “Inter-Seminar Student Conference” for third-year students as a place for students to present the results of their regular research. A student version of the conferences we researchers conduct, this conference was born from the idea of allowing students to play games against outside teams as well. This year marks our twelfth conference and a total of about fifty research presentations, including ones from Nagoya University, where the conference is held, our university, Nagoya City University, and occasionally Aichi University of Education. Students each have ten minutes, in which they compete to see how quickly they can summarize their main points and how clearly they can explain them. After the presentations, the students throw out pointed questions. At the end, the teachers make comments, but the rules forbid them from commenting on their own students’ presentations.

Twelve students in three seminars from our university’s School of Foreign Studies have participated. They are basically students from the social sciences, but the contents of their presentations are full of variety. Furthermore, since there are also participants from different academic departments at the other universities, students focus on devising their presentations in such a way that people from outside their area of specialty can understand them, such as by using diagrams and charts. Of course, listening and asking questions are also learning experiences, not just the presentations. Amid the tension, the students hone their presentation skills by provoking and inspiring each other.

Learning the “Now” of Japanese Diplomacy and Cultivating a Professional Outlook at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Seminar

Another new initiative, which started from last year, is a Ministry of Foreign Affairs seminar entitled “Speaking with Students.” Until last year, it was only held in Tokyo and Kyoto, but through a chance connection to someone involved in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who was a graduate of our university’s Department of British and American Studies, it came to be held in Aichi as well. Last year and this year, Nanzan University hosted the seminar, but our university is planning to host the third seminar this year.

The merit of this seminar is that students get to hear about the day-to-day affairs and the real voices of young personnel at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who are working on the front lines of diplomacy, and they get direct answers to their questions. For the seminar this fiscal year, we prepared a keynote speech on “The Great East Japan Earthquake and Japanese Diplomacy/International Society,” followed by six fascinating panels: “Relations with China and Asian Diplomacy,” “The Situation in the Middle East and North Africa,” “Territorial Disputes,” “Public Diplomacy,” “Official Development Assistance (Including Human Security),” and “International Civil Servants.” It is a good opportunity for students to get a feel for international situations in real-time and to experience the “now” of Japanese diplomacy as it deals with those situations, in addition to learning about the everyday activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The executive committee consists of seven schools, including our university: Nanzan University, Kinjo Gakuin University, Shizuoka Prefectural University, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies, Nagoya City University, and Nagoya University. A student-run secretariat has been launched, and it holds events such as a pre-seminar study group, but the problem is what to do after the seminar. I hope that the students will continue to hold study groups independently and make them useful as places for exchange with students from other universities.

Interest in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Seminar, where students can hear directly about specific duties and stories of people’s experiences, has been growing from students in the School of Foreign Studies who are aiming for careers as employees with international organizations or diplomats, especially students in the Department of International and Cultural Studies, which was established in 2009. This kind of seminar also helps to cultivate a professional outlook. It is important to know what you can do using foreign languages and what kinds of jobs are out there. I feel that the time has come to incorporate career education into foreign language education programs so that students may find jobs that they really want to do.


Department of British and American Studies,School of Foreign Studies

Professor OHNO Makoto

Areas of Specialty: Modern British History, History of Modern Science

In 1996, following a search, he moved from his former position as Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Nagasaki University to his current position as Assistant Professor in the Department of British and American Studies in the School of Foreign Studies at Aichi Prefectural University. Using his experience of graduate study in both the sciences and the humanities, his areas of specialty are modern British history and the history of modern science. He covers a wide range of fields, from his international joint research on “The Public Sphere in Modern England” to his personal research on “Newton’s Apple Tree.” He is also a dog lover and has a family of four corgis, which are Welsh herding dogs known for their long history as pets of the British royal family.

Interview: KASUGAI Takashi; Writer: MIYAUCHI Kyōko


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