Owen Griffiths

Associate Professor


I am a first generation Canadian whose parents immigrated from England in the shadow of WWII. I was raised in the Annapolis Valley and Halifax but never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would become a historian. This is perhaps appropriate since the study of the history reminds us of the indeterminacy of the future and the importance of unintended consequences.

As a historian of the modern world, I have been trained specifically in the histories of Japan and China. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to live, work, and study in Japan for more than 30 years and China for more than 20. These experiences have given me valuable insights into the everyday worlds of the Japanese and Chinese peoples, which, in turn, profoundly informs my teaching and research. One of the particularly valuable consequences of these experiences has been the opportunity to see the world in which I grew up from an entirely different perspective. This has reinforced the importance of context, which may be history’s most valuable contribution to understanding the human condition.

When I am not engaged in teaching and research, I enjoy playing and listening to music, making brownies, and watching baseball. Go Jays!


Works in Progress

Book: A Nightmare in the Making: Sacrificial Death, Gendered Nationalism and Children’s Media in Japan, 1890-1930.

Article: “Killing, Dying, and the Canadian Culture of Sacrificial Death.”


“The Sounds and Silence of Atrocity,” in Tamaki Matsuoka, Torn Memories of Nanking: Testimonials of Japanese War Veterans and Chinese Survivors of the Nanjing Massacre, Alpha, 2016, 18-29.

“White Peril/Yellow Peril and Japan’s Pan-Asian Visions, 1850-1930,” Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Course Reader #13, 2014, 264 p, http://www.japanfocus.org/course_readers.

“Militarizing Japan: Patriotism, Profit, and Children’s Print Media, 1895-1925,” Japan Focus (Fall 2007), http://japanfocus.org/products/details/2528.

“What We Forget When We Remember the Pacific War,” Education About Asia, Spring 2006, 5-10.

“A Nightmare in the Making: War, Nation, and Children’s Media in Japan, 1891-1945,” International Institute of Asian Studies Newsletter, 38 (October 2005), 12-14.

“Need, Greed, and Protest in Japan’s Black Market, 1937-1945,” Journal of Social History (Summer 2002), 825-59.

“Japanese Children and the Culture of Death, August – January 1945,” in James Martens, ed., Children and War: A Historical Anthology, New York University Press, 2002, 160-71.


“Poppies, Cherries, and the mis-Meaning of Remembrance Day,” Active History, November 2019, https://activehistory.ca/2019/11/poppies-cherries-and-the-mis-meaning-o….

“Springtime for Big History” (part one of a four-part series), Active History, July 2017, http://activehistory.ca/2017/07/springtime-for-big-history-part-one/.

“When Things Go Wrong: Responsibility and Control in a Mount Allison Classroom” (w Andrew Nurse), in Louise Wasylkiw and Jennifer Tomes (eds.), Teaching Mount Allison, Friesens Press, 2016, 49-62.

“Lest We Forget,” in David Roberts (ed.), Remembrance Poems: Poems for Remembrance Day and Peace Events, Saxon Books, 2015, 89, 105, 109-110.


May 2000: Ph.D., History, University of British Columbia, “The Reconstruction of Self and Society in Early Postwar Japan, 1945-49.”

April 1996 – February 1997: AIEJ Research Fellow, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

April 1991 – July 1992: Monbushō Research Student, Meiji University, Tokyo

June 1989: B.A., History/Japanese Studies, University of Victoria.


In my years as a university teacher I have become increasingly convinced that one of my most important roles is to encourage and guide students in the development and practice of three essential skills that form a vital component of a liberal arts education: selection, interpretation, and transmission. Selection involves not only asking questions about a given subject and weighing evidence and sources related to that subject, but also recognizing that the kinds of questions asked shape the analytical framework in which the subject is understood. Interpretation deals with issues of logical structure, methodology, and voice, the latter being concerned with the interaction between the author and their sources within the structure of a historical narrative. Transmission focuses on the different ways in which information can be presented to a given audience in aural, written, or other visual forms.

While these three skills are interrelated parts of a single process, I find it useful to separate them for pedagogical purposes because it reinforces the idea that students should be active players in their own education. Simply put, I ask students to acquire their education, rather than merely receive it. And it is through the process of acquisition that students can develop the research and analytical skills that will serve them well long after leaving university. Regardless of the different career paths my students take upon graduation, helping them become better researchers and communicators remains a core motivation of my teaching.

Courses Taught

History 1681: The Uses and Abuses of History

History 2731: Asia in World History

History 2741: Asia, the World, and Big History

History 3721: The Confucian World

History 3751: China in the Modern World

History 3761: Japan and the Making of Modern Asia

History 4001: History Through Film

History 4701: War and Revolution Asia

History 4991: Money, Markets, and Merchants: A Global History of. Exchange


My principle research area is modern Japan and how its experience fits into the larger story of world history. My current book project examines the rise of mass print media in late 19th century Japan and its role in constructing a gendered nationalism grounded in martiality and manliness. The second part of the project is to show that Japan’s experience was not unique, that, in fact, all industrializing nations engaged in a similar process of identity construction driven by the emergence of mass media.

A second project I am working on relates to the gap between our historical understanding of the past and the ways in which we publicly commemorate that same past. I specifically focus on our how our remembrances of war distort our understanding of what war is and the experience of those who fight.

Grants, awards & honours

2019: Marjorie Young Bell Faculty Fund

2017: Crake Foundation Research Grant

2016: Crake Foundation Research Grant

2016: President’s Research and Creative Activity Fund

2015: Marjorie Young Bell Faculty Fund

2005 – 2009: SSHRC Research Grant

2006: Tucker Teaching Award Nominee