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University of Hong Kong historian becomes first scholar in Japan to win prestigious international book award

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Dr. Janet Borland, Assistant Professor in the Department of Japanese Studies, won the 2020 Grace Abbott Book Prize for Children of Earthquakes: Building Resilience from the Ruins of Tokyo (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2020).

The award is given annually by the Society for the History of Children and Youth for the best book published in English on the history of children, childhood or youth (widely interpreted). Dr. Borland received the award in an online ceremony at the biennial conference in Galway. She is the first Japanese researcher to win this prestigious international book award.

Dr. Borland’s book challenges the popular notion that Japanese people owe their resilience in the face of disaster to an innate sense of calm. She believes that the contemporary Japanese culture of preparedness is the result of learned behaviors and practice that began in earnest after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that devastated Tokyo.

“In 1923, children were invisible in the ruins of Tokyo. Within four weeks of the earthquake they returned to makeshift schools, writing articles and drawing pictures about their experiences with the earthquake, and their hopes for the future,” Dr. Borland explained. Japanese experts recognized that children’s voices The candid can play an important role in a society recovering from disaster. As such, children and their creativity have been valued and used as harbingers of hope, symbols of resilience, and ambassadors of gratitude, for a variety of commemorative, educational and political purposes.”

“By digging through an impressive archive of material created before and after the earthquake, Dr. Borland demonstrates that children played an important role in developing Japan’s distinctive approach to disaster preparedness,” the award committee noted. “It provides a model for how historians can analyze the sources children produce and incorporate them into their studies.”

Members of the International Prize Committee were “particularly impressed” by Dr. Borland’s “extensive and creative archive, and her careful analysis of the diverse material that children generated about the disaster, including stories, photographs and poems.”

The committee also praised the book’s “agile narration presented in clear and easy prose, along with informative methodological discussions”. They agreed that both features would “make it valuable to researchers and students in many fields”.

“I am deeply honored to win the Grace Abbott Book Award,” said Dr. Borland. “I hope Earthquake Children will continue to attract a large number of readers and help highlight the important role that children have played as disaster preparedness agents in history, and can play in the future.”

Notably, this is the second book award given to Dr. Borland for her first book. In July 2020, the earthquake children won the first book prize of the Hong Kong Academy of Humanities.

On July 11-12, Dr. Borland was invited to present Earthquake Kids at the 2021 Natural Hazards Workshop, University of Colorado, Boulder. She is the only historian of Japan to have presented her book in a field largely dominated by eminent social scientists. The workshop will bring together risk and disaster researchers, along with federal and state officials from agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the two most important institutions in the United States dedicated to promoting disaster research and preparedness.

Dr. Janet Borland is an award-winning historian of modern Japan whose research focuses on the fundamental relationships between people and the natural and architectural environment. At the University of Hong Kong, Dr. Borland actively developed synergies between her research, teaching and knowledge sharing activities. Her research-led teaching philosophy inspired her to take a leading role in the Young Leaders Japan Tour, a unique field trip powered by Mitsubishi Corporation and designed to give University of Hong Kong students first-hand experience of recovery and reconstruction in Miyagi and Fukushima after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and the crisis nuclear. In recognition of her achievements, Dr. Borland was awarded the 2021 Faculty of Science Sharing Award, and the 2018 Hong Kong University Excellence in Teaching Award (individuals).

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