Samuel Emerson Perry
Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies
Samuel Perry’s first exposure to the Japanese language came during a summer job at the Rockefeller Library just before his freshman year at Brown.
“I would take a Japanese book along with me on my lunch break and practice writing characters,” he remembered. “It gave me just enough of a head start on the language that I was more than ready for my first course that fall.” Perry studied Japanese throughout his undergraduate years at Brown, spending his junior year in Kyoto and earning his A.B. in East Asian studies. He wrote his honors thesis in Japanese.
Following stints in Japan, South Korea, and the University of Chicago for an M.A. and Ph.D. in East Asian languages and civilizations, he landed at Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow. He’s now returning to Brown’s Department of East Asian Studies as an assistant professor.
“I want to bring to Brown an expanded understanding of East Asian culture — culture not just as artifact, but as social practice,” he says, though he also notes it might take some time getting used to calling his former professors by their first names.
Perry, who also speaks Korean, says he feels ready for teaching. His first teaching job was as a Brown student, when he taught English to recent immigrants. Later, he helped develop the Japanese language curriculum at Phillips Exeter Academy. “I’ve experienced a wide range of students,” he notes, “and that has helped me prepare the diversity of the Brown student body.”
His dissertation for the University of Chicago examined the proletarian cultural movement in Japan and colonial Korea, which flourished from 1925 to 1934. One example of the literary output this movement produced is the avant-garde genre of “wall fiction,” which was meant to be posted on factory walls in order to capture a new audience of readers. Perry says just over 100 examples of these rich historical narratives are still extant today, ranging from what we now might consider propaganda to the most sensitive of realism. His dissertation, soon to be published as a monograph, will likely take its place on the shelves in his new office as he returns to Brown, and his hometown of Providence.
As in many homecoming stories there is a mother character, and for Perry that is Rhoda Perry, a Rhode Island state senator. “My mom is more thrilled than anyone that I’m coming home,” he says.