Charlotte von Verschuer

East Asian Civilizations Research Center, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris

Dr. Charlotte von Verschuer’s historiography bridges the fields of institutional history, geography, art history, philology, cultural history, and literary study in analyzing the physical remnants of the past millennium in Japan. Recent journal articles have challenged conventional wisdom on subjects such as rice consumption and the aesthetics of premodern beauty. Utilizing an innovative and transdisciplinary approach, Dr. von Verschuer reveals new answers to questions about trade, farming, crafts, diet, and clothing.

Trained at the École pratique des hautes études, the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales, the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Bonn University, and International Christian University in Tokyo, Dr. von Verschuer’s work draws from historical written sources, archaeology, visual materials, as well as material culture and craft objects (including ceramics, lacquer, and textiles). She combines her philological research with an anthropological approach influenced by the French Annales school. Her interests include material culture, economic history, and foreign relations including trade. Recent studies have encompassed agricultural history and food history. 

Dr. von Verschuer has authored or co-edited nine books and more than 50 articles in French, English, German, and Japanese. Her publications include monographs on premodern East Asian commerce and rice cultivation, as well as collaborative projects such as the French/English Dictionary of Sources of Classical Japan

Primary Recipient Awards

French Scholars Lecture Series, Charlotte von Verschuer, 2014

Charlotte von Verschuer

Lecture: Rice in Japanese Culture: Myth and Reality from a Premodern Perspective

Considered the traditional staple of the Japanese diet (an assumption Dr. von Verschuer has recently challenged), rice has been used as a form of currency and a method of managing land division in Japan. The history of rice reveals demographic changes, economic transformations, and even artistic developments. This lecture will present a historical outline of Japanese agricultural traditions from the 8th to the 18th centuries. We will examine the rice growing process in Japan from medieval to modern times, drawing from 18th-century illustrations and mid-20th century photographs. How do historical sources compare with the mythology of rice in Japanese culture? How is rice grown in a country that is dominated by mountainous forests?

For over two millennia, the bio-diversity of Japan has enabled multi-crop cultivation, including rice, as well as practices of gathering and collecting. Dr. von Verschuer will illustrate the diversity of medieval agricultural traditions through paintings, ethnographic photographs, and her own fieldwork. A central activity for many premodern societies, agriculture still employs 40% of the world’s population. As demand for increased crop production increases, traditional techniques for sustainable agriculture are being re-examined, included crop rotation and catch cropping, approaches that were widely practiced in premodern Japan.