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Manuscript Records of Traders, Travellers, Missionaries and Diplomats, 1853-1941

Part 2: Journals and Student Essays
Part 3: Correspondence and Scrapbooks
Part 4: Collected Papers of Brown, Perry and others
Part 5:
Writings by Griffis

Scope and Content

The William Elliot Griffis Collection in Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives includes papers, publications, photographs, ephemera and artefacts created and collected by William Elliot Griffis, one of the first foreign employees (yatoi) of the Japanese Government during the second half of the nineteenth century, and the foremost interpreter of Japanese culture for the American public from 1876 to the First World War.

Over a fifty-year period spanning the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, William Elliot Griffis was well known as a popular author and lecturer, a 'Japan hand' who was perhaps the foremost American expert on Japan and the Far East and on American relations with East Asia. A Civil War veteran and graduate of Rutgers College (1869), Griffis was one of the first of the yatoi, the foreign employees of the Meiji government: in 1870 he went to the provincial capital of Fukui, teaching there for a year before moving to Tokyo, where he taught English and Chemistry for three years at the Kaisai Gakko (later Tokyo University). In Tokyo, he was joined by his sister Margaret Clark Griffis, who also worked as a teacher and participated in the modern revolution of Japanese women's education (and whose papers are also preserved in the Griffis Collection). After returning to the United States in 1874, Griffis embarked on a career writing and lecturing on Japan and related subjects. His 1876 volume The Mikado's Empire was for decades the authoritative reference in the West on Japanese culture and history.

The entire range of his output is represented in the Griffis Collection at Rutgers. Manuscripts, in various stages of completion, are joined by copious notes on Griffis's many projects and interests: Japan, its history and religion; Korea and China; Holland; New York State and American history (including the 1779 Sullivan Expedition against the Iroquois); important figures in the history of Japanese-US relations from Millard Fillmore and Matthew Calbraith Perry to the missionaries Guido Verbeck, James Ballagh, J C Hepburn and Samuel Robbins Brown; fine and applied arts; folklore; current events and world affairs; biblical literature; theology and the challenges offered Christianity by its exposure to the religions and cultures of the East, and so on.

In addition to the considerable quantity of Griffis's own work, his working subject files contain remarkable source materials on the various issues in which he was interested. The materials Griffis gathered, even more abundant and broad-ranging than those he himself produced, include numerous items rare or unique to the collection and of great historical interest. Among them, notably, are not only numbers of very rare printed materials in Japanese - books, pamphlets, maps - from the late Tokugawa and Meiji periods, but also nearly 350 manuscript essays written in English by Japanese students of Griffis and Margaret Griffis, on numerous subjects: growing up in pre-Meiji Japan; Japanese history (including contemporary history); customs; games; theatre; occupations and crafts; religion, folklore and superstitions. Another valuable asset of the Griffis papers is their reflection of the popular image of Japan in the American public as it developed up to the turn of the century and beyond. Furthermore the papers' extensive documentation of the American popular press (Griffis carefully saved notices and reviews of his own and others' work), and his personal contacts with publishers and audiences, offer a close view of nineteenth century American popular and intellectual culture. As a result of his work as a public speaker the collection contains many materials in media besides print, notably photographs and lantern slides.

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