Professor Timon Screech is an art historian specializing in the Edo period. He is a Japanologist with profound knowledge who continues uncovering the history remaining in visual information (visual historical materials). He is a scholar for whom art is not only the object of study, but also a tool for his studies.
Prof. Screech was born in 1961 in Birmingham, U.K. After graduating from Oxford University (Oriental Studies) in 1985, he obtained an MA and PhD in art history at Harvard University. He continued his research at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London from 1991 to 2021, and in 2021, he was appointed as a professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies. In 2018, he became a Fellow of the British Academy.
In his earlier research, he was particularly interested in understanding the mutual influence between Japanese drama, ukiyoe and other forms of popular visual culture on the one hand, and studies of Western knowledge on the other. Based on evidence drawn from a wide variety of visual material, he sets out to reconstruct a history of consciousness. The fruit of his research was his PhD thesis, The Western Scientific Gaze and Popular Imagery in Later Edo Japan (1996) (translated into Japanese as O-edo Shikaku Kakumei, 1998). He went on to publish two books in succession that attracted much attention and have impacted the academic world in Japan and abroad. One of them is Opening the Edo Body (1997) in which he focuses on human dissection and argues that, in Holland, dissection was considered the only way to get to the truth, whereas in Japan, it was regarded as no more than one tool to access a number of truths. The other is Sex and the Floating World: Japanese Erotic Imagery, 1700-1820 (1999), in which he declares that Edo shunga should be treated as pornography rather than praised as art.
Art cannot be discussed if separated from the mechanisms that produce it and the interactions with the cultural, social and economic contexts that surround it. Prof. Screech's awareness of this aspect of art criticism has been consistently clear. However, he took it one step further in his book The Shogun's Painted Culture: Fear and Creativity in the Japanese States, 1720-1829 (2000); he explored politics and art through researching Matsudaira Sadanobu, the Kano school, Maruyama Okyo, Shiba Kokan, Tani Buncho, and many others, and pioneered a new academic genre that can be called 'the politics of visual culture'. In his works, Japan's perspectives of cultural exchanges with Europe in the Edo period have an important place (e.g. Oranda ga tōru: Ningen kōryū no edo bijutsushi [The Dutch are Passing: Edo Art and Exchange of Persons], 2011), and this viewpoint naturally adds context to Japanese history within world history. Therefore, his work holds broader scaled characteristics as “global history”. However, in Edo no ôbushin: Tokugawa toshi keikaku no shigaku [The Great Building of Edo: Poetics and Planning of the Tokugawa Metropolis] (2007), he deliberately puts this perspective aside and presents a novel study of Edo that analyzed the city from the perspective of creating a new urban space to compete with Kyoto, stimulating the academic world. His work has been published not only in English speaking countries but also translated into Korean and Chinese, further increasing his reputation.
For his pioneering approach to the study of Edo, through an innovative methodology involving the analysis of vast quantities of visual and bibliographical materials from multifaceted and global perspectives, Prof. Timon Screech is truly worthy of the Academic Prize of the Fukuoka Prize.