A scholar of the history and culture of early modern Japan, Conrad Totman began his career as a student of ornamental horticulture at the University of Massachusetts. After graduation in 1953, Totman served in the army for three years in South Korea where got his first taste of Japanese culture during leave. His experiences in Japan piqued his scholarly interest, and upon his return to the states with his new wife Michiko, he finished college at UMass and did his graduate work at Harvard where he received a doctorate in 1964 for a study of politics during the Tokugawa period. Totman held academic positions at UC Santa Barbara, Northwestern, and Yale before retiring in 1997.
The bulk of the collection documents Professor Totman's education and professional work as a scholar and teacher of Japanese history. Dispersed throughout is a treasure trove of information on Japan in general, and particularly on his specialties: early modern Japan and forestry and environmental management. An enormous, highly influential, and cherished part of Totman's life is his family, and the Totman clan is well represented in this collection. Reams of genealogical material document the rich heritage of the Totman family, including the transcribed love letters and diaries of his paternal grandmother and biographies of Totman ancestors, as well as hundreds of letters written between Michiko and her family in Japan.
The collection is open for research.
Background on Conrad D. Totman
On a wintry 5th of January, 1934, Conrad Davis Totman was born in an upstairs bedroom of the family farmhouse in Conway, Massachusetts. His father, Raymond Smith Totman, declared it too dangerous to drive his wife ten miles on unpaved, unplowed, and unreliable roads to the nearest hospital in Greenfield. Thus, the family doctor made the trek to the farm on that cold and snowy day and helped Mildred Kingsbury Totman deliver her second son. Conrad was preceded by his brother, Leland, in 1931, and followed by two sisters: Barbara in 1936, and Gail in 1937. The third generation of Totmans to work the farm known as "Broomshire" was complete.
As the children grew, so too did their responsibilities and chores around the farm. At various points in his childhood, Conrad was responsible for duties such as the care of chickens, herding the dairy cows and calves out to pasture, cleaning udders prior to milking, and assisting older farmhands with their work. Later, when Conrad became one of those older workers, he joined in tasks like mowing, drying and baling hay, cultivating and drying tobacco, tapping maple trees for sap, harvesting, processing and ensiling field corn for cattle feed, tending to honeybee "supers," felling trees for firewood and lumber, and minding the vegetable garden.
Academically, Conrad excelled. After finishing grammar school locally in Conway, he started High School at Arms Academy in nearby Shelburne Falls. In 1952, Totman graduated from Arms second in his class. He enrolled in the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the fall as an Ornamental Horticulture major. Totman's interest in gardening made horticulture a logical choice, but study at the university was not as exciting as he thought. He was enrolled in the Army's Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at UMass, and the Army seemed like a good place to sort out his future. So, after a year in Amherst, Totman fulfilled his enlistment on a three year stint. The decision to enlist in the Army proved to be the choice that changed his life.
After training to become a sanitary technician at camps in Virginia and Texas, Totman shipped out to Korea in 1953. The war had officially ended about ten months before, and South Korea was in the process of reconstruction. Totman was assigned to the 78th Preventive Medicine Control Detachment (PMCD). The unit was responsible for maintaining sanitary conditions both in the Army's camps and in the re-building villages of the countryside. Totman was a part of snap inspections of Army facilities such as mess halls and latrines. Another part of his job was to get samples from standing water to test for mosquito larvae. If enough larvae were present, then a sprayer would be hauled in to kill the potential disease-spreading mosquitoes, which also put any nearby humans at risk, though side-effects were largely unknown at the time.
During his stay in South Korea, Totman was an avid photographer, snapping pictures of everyday life both in and out of the military camp. He was able to document Seoul and Pyongyang, and on rest and recuperation (R&R) trips, he visited nearby Japan, a country he immediately loved. Totman took numerous photos and longed to return while stationed back in Korea. The break-up of the 78th PMCD lead to his reassignment to the 207th PMCD. Here, in a bonafide permanent hospital (as opposed to his previous temporary tent), his job was to identify mosquito larvae and to organize information about them. In February of 1955, Totman was given another reassignment, this time to the 10th Preventive Medicine Survey Detachment in Japan. Finally, he returned to the place he found most intriguing. Destiny also awaited him at the 10th PMSD in the form of the secretary to the commanding officer, Michiko Ikegami. They met for the first time on February 28, 1955, and have scarcely been apart since.
For almost a year and a half, Conrad and Michiko grew closer and spent increasing amounts of time together. In June 1956, when Totman's enlistment ran out, he was shipped back home. Soon after, Michiko quit her job and sailed on a cargo ship to San Diego. A plane carried her to Chicago, and another to Hartford, where Aunt Ruth waited to drive her to Amherst. There Michiko enrolled at UMass as a sociology major, and Conrad re-enrolled as a history major with plans to concentrate on Japan. They were married at the Totman family farm in Conway on January 28, 1958. Totman graduated in June--second in his class (again)--and was accepted into Harvard as a graduate student in history. Michiko finished her degree in June of 1959 at UMass Boston.
By 1960, Totman finished his Master's degree in East Asian Studies and in 1961 completed course requirements for a Ph.D. in East Asian History. Michiko, meanwhile, worked as a cataloguer in Harvard's East Asian Library. Conrad's research required an extended trip to Japan for his dissertation on politics during the Tokugawa period, so the couple made preparations to return. After a brief visit with the Ikegami family, they moved into their own house. Totman studied and wrote his thesis while Michiko worked, again cataloguing at a library, all the while speaking only in Japanese to aid Conrad. Their time was punctuated by sightseeing trips all around Japan and visits from Conrad's aunt Ruth and sister Gail. Two years later, in November of 1963, Totman completed his research and the family returned to America by way of an extended vacation; they visited Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Egypt, Greece, and western Europe, and arrived in Conway in time for Christmas.
In June 1964, Totman received his doctorate and secured a teaching position at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The family rented half of a duplex for a short while, but the addition of Kathleen Junko Totman required a more permanent abode. They found a home in time to receive Christopher Ken Totman, and prepared to settle into California. Soon after, though, Totman was asked to take a position in the History Department at Northwestern University, which he accepted. During the summer of 1966, the family moved to Evanston, Illinois, where they stayed until the children completed their public schooling. Conrad taught and wrote extensively while Michiko worked in the Evanston public school system's Japanese-English bilingual program.
After eighteen years at Northwestern University, Conrad accepted a position at Yale University in the fall of 1984. Although Totman had made many friends and acquaintances during his stay in Illinois, the move to Yale made sense because it was conveniently close to his family and boyhood home in Conway, Massachusetts.
During his career, Toman worked on a wide variety of topics in early modern and modern Japan, ranging from the collpase of the Tokugawa Shogunate to forestry and the lumber industry in Japan, a topic reflecting his early years at an agricultural college. He taught courses of equal diversity, and upon retirement in 1997, was granted emeritus status. Conrad and Michiko Totman continue to live near New Haven.
The Conrad Totman Papers chronicle not only the life of Conrad Totman but also the lives of those who influenced him. The bulk of the collection documents Totman's education and profession as a scholar and teacher of Japanese history. Documents such as report cards, essays, and notes show his progression as a student, and tests, lecture notes, and evaluations show his progression as a college professor. Dispersed throughout is information on Japan in general and, in particular, on his specialties: early modern Japan and forestry and environmental management. Professional correspondence and other documents reveal a network of other highly educated Japan and Asian specialists, engaging in discourse aimed to support, challenge, and improve each other's scholarly output. An enormous, highly influential, and cherished, part of Totman's life is his family, and the Totman clan is well represented in this collection. Reams of genealogical material document the rich heritage of the Totman family, including the transcribed love letters and diaries of his paternal grandmother and alphabetized biographies of Totman ancestors, among many others. Illuminating the stories told in other parts of the collection, such as those in the large cache of highly descriptive personal letters to family members, are the many photographs spanning Totman's entire life and beyond.
This collection, on the one hand, documents Conrad Totman's life, liberties, and pursuits of happiness. On the other, it is a monument to his unceasing desire to inform others at the highest level possible. The final physical organization of this collection was made with every attempt to preserve the initial organization arranged by Totman himself. Save for a few shifts, the majority of the collection is still organized into subjects that Totman devised. He even included, in many instances, handwritten and typed notes further explaining connections and historical context for particular groupings. Personal characteristics are also apparent in the collection. Never one to waste, Totman's reprints and loose transcriptions of documents such as professional correspondence are usually printed on used paper. The loose transcriptions of messy or lost documents are indicated by the word "converted" written in the upper right-hand corner. Thus, conflicting information on the reverse of a document can always be nullified by examining the context of the surrounding group of documents. Also, while a large portion of this collection is about Japan, little of Totman's correspondence is in Japanese without any translation or explanation in English. However, the bulk of Michiko Ikegami Totman's letters are in Japanese, and the collection contains numerous items of Japanese significance: official papers, travel documents, receipts, notes, etc.