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Sunday, May 24, 2015


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Prange Collection hosts visiting scholar

The process of research is nothing like a high-speed train. It is neither fast nor direct. The endpoint is often unknown.

And for historian Jessamyn Abel, a visiting scholar at the university’s Prange Collection, the research process is also just beginning. “I came with an open mind to see what there is, and where it takes me,” she says of the Prange Collection at the University of Maryland. She knows that many of the materials here are unique and do not exist anywhere else in the world.

Abel is currently researching the development of the bullet train in Japan in the context of the 20th-century international race toward high-speed rail. Her research is still at an early stage, and the broad spectrum of formats and topics represented in the collection gives her lots of opportunity to explore. 


The Gordon W. Prange Collection at the University of Maryland is the most comprehensive archive in the world of print publications issued in Japan from 1945 to 1949, the first four years of the Allied Occupation. Reviewed by Allied censors, many documents in the collection show the colored-pencil censorship markings that led to deletions, suppression or publishing delays.

The collection is comprised of virtually everything published on all subjects during this pivotal time: pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, news agency photographs, posters, maps, ephemera and related archival materials.

Textbooks and picture books

Among the many Prange Collection materials Abel has reviewed are a collection of books published by a railroad textbook company that was a sort of correspondence course for railway workers. It’s an uncataloged resource Abel discovered only after arriving here. She has also learned about the popular view of trains by reading dozens of children’s books on the subject. Abel imagines that her forthcoming book will now include a chapter relating to trains as represented in children’s popular culture.

A senior lecturer at Penn State, Abel is the 2012-2013 recipient of the 20th Century Japan Research Award. The award, co-sponsored by the University of Maryland Libraries and the Nathan and Jeanette Miller Center for Historical Studies, supports a scholar’s expenses for a visit to the College Park campus.

Abel’s mid-May visit to Maryland was not her first. She’s mined what she calls the treasure trove of microfilm at McKeldin Library, and tapped into “an incredible database” searchable by the keywords “bullet train.”  But it’s in the Prange Collection, situated on the top floor of Hornbake Library, where Abel spends her days.

Heightened Intensity

Abel is preparing for additional research in Japan, which she’ll visit later in the summer for the first time  in five years.  It will be a trip with heightened intensity—“a two-month surgical strike,” she calls it. She’ll launch a focused research tour that will include stops to the National Diet Library (the national diet is Japan’s bicameral legislature) and the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among other research institutions.

But, she says, she is pleased to have started in Maryland. “I was glad I could come here first to give my research some shape,” she says. “It’s easier to get back to Maryland than Tokyo.”