In Memoriam: Shuichi Nagata

Professor Emeritus Shuichi Nagata died peacefully on July 11, 2016. A private cremation service was held on Thursday, July 14, and a full family funeral will be held in November at his ancestral grave in Tokyo. A public memorial service will be held Friday, October 28 from 4-7pm in the Main Lounge of the Faculty Club. Please click here to RSVP Prof. Nagata served as Chair of the department of Anthropology from 1986 to 1991.

The following was written by Prof. Jane Helleiner (PhD, 1991), one of Prof. Nagata’s former graduate students. Jane is currently a Professor at Brock University.

As a former undergraduate and then graduate student of Prof. Shuichi Nagata, I appreciate the opportunity to share some of my memories of him and I hope that these words will resonate with many other students who have been profoundly and positively shaped by his teaching and scholarship.

In the early 1980s, as a new anthropology major at the University of Toronto, I was  fortunate to be a student in Prof. Nagata’s “Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology” (ANT 204) course. For those curious about the reading list of that period, I recall that we covered Mary Douglas’ Purity and Danger as well as several of the then popular Spindler case studies notably The Semai (Dentan), The Huron (Trigger), Hano, A Tewa Indian Community (Dozier), Peasants (Wolf), and Changing Japan (Norbeck). Prof. Nagata’s fieldwork amongst the Hopi Peoples and indigenous people of Malaysia as well as his upbringing in Japan, brought tremendous depth to his lectures on these texts and I was completely captivated!  Subsequently I went on to Prof. Nagata’s  more advanced “Anthropology of Southeast Asia” and “Political Anthropology” courses where he shared much more of his personal research experiences through stories and slides  (in those pre-power point days).

As a graduate student, I was one of many Canadian and international students who benefitted from Prof. Nagata’s strong commitment to the role of MA and Ph.D supervisor. When I was conducting doctoral research in Ireland, for example, Prof. Nagata was doing fieldwork in a region of Malaysia with no mail service (in those pre-internet days). During his brief sojourns in centres where he could access the mail, he always managed to read and respond to my research reports with detailed advice and encouragement. When his research again took him abroad very near the end of my Ph.D program, he ensured a seamless transition of supervisory duties to Prof. Peter Carstens. Prof. Nagata was very generous with his time and scholarly insights. Drafts were returned promptly with extensive typewritten comments and hand written edits. His prioritizing of student needs continued throughout the extended period when he was Chairperson of the Department. During supervisory meetings held in his very busy Chairperson’s office (then in the rather drab ground floor of Sidney Smith), he managed to offer his undivided attention to students such as myself. Later, in his much quieter office in University College, I recall him kindly responding to my expression of concern about the quality of my fieldwork data, by reminding me that it was not so much the quality of the data that mattered but what I would do with it…an important piece of advice that led me to stop worrying and start writing!

Conversations with Prof. Nagata were always stimulating given his eclectic scholarly interests.  He read widely and took a keen interest in research that spanned the 4-fields of the discipline represented in the Department.  As a result, he was able to effectively engage with, and support students both inside and outside the social/cultural stream. My partner, Bohdan Szuchewycz, working in Linguistic Anthropology, for example, received extensive mentorship from him as a graduate student and then as a fledgling faculty member. Prof. Nagata had a quirky and endearing sense of humour (he memorably for instance, responded to my announcement of my first pregnancy by jokingly asking me not to send him baby pictures because he already had albums full of such photos from former students!). Prof. Nagata modelled scholarly breadth, curiosity and rigour as well as a deep dedication to a broadly defined, humane and grounded global anthropology. He offered inspiration and support to many through his teaching, research, and  service to students, colleagues, the Department and the discipline of anthropology. I am very fortunate to have been among his many students.

Dr. Jane Helleiner, August 2016

Read Prof. Nagata’s obituary in The Globe & Mail here.