A specialist in modern and contemporary Japanese history, Sheldon Garon also writes transnational/global history that spotlights the flow of ideas and institutions between Asia, Europe, and the United States. He recently authored “Transnational History and Japan’s ‘Comparative Advantage.'” His transnational history, Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves (2012), examines the connected histories of saving and spending over the past two centuries in Japan, other Asian nations, Europe, and America. The book has received global attention from media, nonprofit groups, international organizations, museums, and financial institutions because it offers recommendations on what Americans might learn from European and East Asian nations whose policies have vigorously encouraged citizens to save and avoid “overindebtedness.” Garon has been active in policy debates to increase lower-income households’ access to financial institutions and to reintroduce postal banking in the United States. He also coedited The Ambivalent Consumer: Questioning Consumption in East Asia and the West (2006).
Garon’s work on Japanese history likewise probes relationships between state and society. His first book, The State and Labor in Modern Japan (1987), profiled the shifting relations among the labor movement, bureaucracy, and political parties to chart modern Japan’s rapid transition from oligarchic rule to interwar democracy, wartime authoritarianism, and the present postwar order. In Molding Japanese Minds: The State in Everyday Life (1997), Garon demonstrates how women’s groups and middle-class activists cooperated with government officials to manage and mobilize society in both Imperial and postwar Japan. His five case studies cover welfare, regulation of prostitution, control of heterodox religions, participation of women in public life, and popular support of the state’s ubiquitous campaigns to “improve daily life” and promote saving.
Garon is currently writing a transnational history of “home fronts” in Japan, Germany, and Britain in World War II. The Second World War was a global experience, yet histories of the home front remain confined to individual nations and national mythologies. In actuality, all these home fronts were transnationally constructed between the 1920s and 1945, as planners in each nation systematically investigated how allies and enemies were mobilizing their civilian populations for “total war.” The book focuses on the connected histories of the aerial bombardment of cities, coping with food shortages and blockades, and the challenge of maintaining civilian “morale” in protracted war.
Professor Garon has taught survey courses on modern Japan and modern East Asia, as well as transnational and comparative seminars on fascism, gender, aerial bombardment of cities, and political economy. Garon has actively promoted the internationalization of curriculum and research at Princeton. From 2001 to 2003, he chaired the University’s Task Force on International Studies, which led to the creation in 2003 of a new institute, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), which integrates international and regional studies within the University. Garon recently directed the Global History Project of the Humboldt-Princeton Strategic Partnership.