Faculty Emeriti

Lawrence Olson

Lawrence Olson was a Professor of History at Wesleyan University from 1966 until his retirement in 1986. Graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1938, Olson went on to receive a Master of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1939, later receiving a doctorate from the same university in 1955. During the Second World War, Olson attended and graduated from the U.S. Navy Japanese Language School in Boulder, Colorado and later served as a Lieutenant with the Pacific Fleet Radio Unit in Pearl Harbor, working to decipher Japanese military codes.

At Wesleyan, Olson was significant player in the development of East Asian studies, helping to institute the study of Chinese and Japanese within the curriculum. In the early 1970’s Olson met with Mansfield Freeman, and together they would begin the groundwork for constructing the CEAS department as we know it, with Freeman proving generous support and making the proposal a reality. Olson was also instrumental in establishing and directing the early development of the Associated Kyoto Program.

Outside of this, Olson lectured and authored much scholarship on topics ranging from Japanese social, political, and economic issues, as well as Japanese culture with books such as Ambivalent Moderns: Portraits of Japanese Cultural Identity (1987), Japan in Postwar Asia (1970), and Dimensions of Japan (1963). For his outstanding work in the promotion of education and knowledge about Japan, Olson would go on to become the recipient of the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Japanese Government, which is on display in the Freeman CEAS Center.


David Titus

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1934, the late David Titus was a Professor of Government and East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University from 1966 to his retirement in 2004, serving as the chair of the Government department, the EAS program, and the College of Social Studies during his time at the university. In addition to these roles, Titus also served as the resident director of the Kyoto Program numerous times and was both a member and often the chair of the program’s executive board. In 1976 Titus examined Wesleyan’s relationship with East Asia starting at the university’s founding, publishing a report that revealed interactions between Wesleyan and East Asia as early as 1836. Professor Titus was also a leading scholar of Japanese politics, exemplified with his 1974 book, Palace and Politics in Prewar Japan, which was later translated to Japanese in 1979.


Frances Sheng

The late Frances Sheng was an Adjunct Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Literatures at Wesleyan University, having completed her undergraduate degree Fu Jen Catholic University in Beijing, and her MA at the University of Connecticut. Sheng was the first professor to teach Chinese language at Wesleyan University, starting in 1972 when she was appointed to the position, teaching until her retirement in 1994. During her time at Wesleyan University, Sheng helped establish the East Asian Studies program, and aided in the establishment an exchange program between Wesleyan and Huazhong University of Science and Technology. The university commemorated her contributions by establishing the Frances M. Sheng Award for excellence in Chinese language and Japanese language.


Jan Willis

Born in Alabama, Jan Willis attended Cornell University for her BA—where she would encounter Tibetan Buddhism on a fellowship in India—and received her MA and PhD at Columbia University. In 1977 Willis was appointed to Wesleyan’s religion department and became the university’s first specialist in Buddhism. As both a scholar and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism for the past 50 years, Willis has published numerous notable works such as her memoir, Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist--One Woman's Spiritual Journey, and has been hailed by TIME, Newsweek, and Ebony magazines, with TIME naming her one of six “spiritual innovators” for the new millennium in the year 2000 and Ebony naming her in 2007 one of its “Power 150 most influential African Americans.” Since retiring at Wesleyan in 2013, Willis has continued teaching Buddhism as well as leading workshops which “explore Race and Racism through a Buddhist Lens.” She lives in Decatur, GA where she taught part-time at Agnes Scott College from 2014–2020.


Anthony Chambers

Anthony Chambers is a scholar and translator of Japanese literature. He received his BA from Pomona College, where he was introduced to Asian Studies by the great Chinese historian S. Y. Ch'en. He also attended International Christian University (Tokyo), Stanford University, the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Study (Tokyo), and the University of Michigan, where he received his PhD under the guidance of the renowned scholar and translator of Japanese literature Edward Seidensticker. In 1971, Chambers was appointed to Arizona State University’s first tenure-track position in Japanese. In 1975, he came to Wesleyan, where he served as the chair of the then Department of Asian Languages and as Resident Director and Chair of the Board of the Associated Kyoto Program. During his time at Wesleyan, Chambers aided the late David Titus in compiling a chronology of the history of East Asian Studies at Wesleyan, advised on the development of the Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, and invited Seidensticker and many others to speak on campus. In 1998, Chambers returned to ASU. He is widely known for his many studies and translations of the novelist Tanizaki Jun'ichirōIn 2007 Chambers received the Japan-United States Friendship Commission Prize for the outstanding translation of classical Japanese literature (for Tales of Moonlight and Rain, by Ueda Akinari).


Ellen Widmer

Ellen Widmer is a scholar of traditional Chinese fiction, Chinese women's writing, the history of the book in China, and missionaries to East Asia. Widmer received her BA from Wellesley College, where she currently serves as a Mayling Soong Professor of Chinese Studies and Professor of East Asian Studies and received a MA from Tufts University in addition to a MA and PhD from Harvard University. At Wesleyan, Widmer became the University’s first Professor of Chinese Literature in 1981 and has been the recipient of countless fellowships ranging from the Harvard Radcliffe Institute to the Fulbright Program. Widmer has also written on the connections between Wesleyan and Wellesley and Christian colleges in China.


Yoshiko Samuel

Yoshiko Samuel, Professor Emerita of Asian Languages and Literatures, received her BA from Aichi Prefectural Women's College in Japan, and her MA from Michigan State University. She taught Japanese at Antioch College in Ohio from 1972 to ‘74 and studied Japanese linguistics and pedagogy at Waseda University in Tokyo. Samuel received her MA and PhD from Indiana University in Japanese Literature. She taught the Japanese language and literature at Wesleyan University from 1979 until her retirement in 2006. She also spent summers teaching Japanese at the University of Michigan, and Japanese literature in the Princeton University’s MA program in Japanese Pedagogy on Columbia University campus. After retirement, as a member of Wesleyan’s Wasch Center Emeritus College, she gave tutorials in the Japanese language and literature, and served as a senior thesis advisor. Throughout her career Samuel taught a variety of topics and periods within Japanese literature, with focus on the Meiji restoration through post World War II, Japanese women and minority writers, politics and literature in postwar Japan, nativism and post-colonialism, Existentialist writers of Japan, and a seminar on Mishima Yukio and Oe Kenzaburo. She also taught women writers of Japan from the Heian Period to the present.

In 1972 Samuel published a children’s book entitled Twelve Years, Twelve Animals. She co-authored Oe Kenzaburo bungaku kaigai no hyouka (1981), co-edited an anthology of contemporary Japanese women writers for and contributed to literary books and journals with chapters and articles in both Japanese and English. She also served as a regular reviewer for World Literature Today. She was an active participant of the Association of Asian StudiesUpon her retirement donated her collection of Japanese books ranging from feminist theory to literature of various periods to Olin Library at Wesleyan. In 2003 she was honored by the Japanese Foreign Minister for her promotion of Japanese culture and language and contributions to Japan-US cultural exchange.


Jonathan Best  

Jonathan Best received his BA from Earlham College and MA from Harvard University, where he also received his PhD, a joint degree from the Department of Fine Arts and the Department of East Asian Languages & Civilizations—it was the first interdepartmental degree of that nature to be awarded at Harvard, but it has subsequently become an established degree program there. After teaching for a few years at the University of Virginia, Best went on to join Wesleyan University in 1979 when a grant from the Japan Foundation helped to create a position in Asian art history, a post that he held until his retirement in 2014.

Best’s research and publications have focused on early Korea and, beyond art history, have treated such topics as religious history, political and diplomatic history, and archaeology. He was the first professor at Wesleyan to offer significant instruction on premodern Korean history. He served as a primary advisor for the exhibition for the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Korea gallery 1998, and for the exhibition comparing early Korean and Japanese Buddhist art in 2003 at the Japan Society in New York that was produced in collaboration with the city’s Korea Society—an exhibition that included National Treasures sent from both countries. The New York Times rated the latter exhibition as the city’s best of that year. He authored A History of the Early Korean Kingdom of Paekche—together with an annotated translation of the Paekche Annals of the Samguk sagi (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center Press, 2006).

Currently he continues his “investigation of the manifold chronological problems in the earliest chronicles of Korea and Japan, the Samguk sagi and the Nihon shoki.” Best is an Associate-in-Research at Yale, a Member of School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, and a member of the Steering Committee for the Cambridge Institute for the Study of Korea. Best was also a founding member of the Early Korea Project at Harvard and served as a member of both its steering committee and editorial board throughout its ten-year existence (2007–2017). 


Vera Schwarcz

Until her retirement in 2015, Vera Schwarcz was a Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University, having received her BA from Vassar College, MA from Yale University, and PhD from Stanford University. Schwarcz also studied at Peking University in China from 1979 to 1980 as a part of the first cohort of American students admitted upon the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States. Schwarcz joined Wesleyan in 1975 filling a position for Chinese History, a position established just 7 years prior. In 1984 Schwarcz aided in the establishment of an exchange program between Wesleyan and Huazhong University of Science and Technology, along with other CEAS professors such as the late Frances Sheng. Schwarcz has also taught Chinese history at Stanford University, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Beijing University and Centre Chine in Paris.

Schwarcz has an extensive publishing history, including multiple books and countless articles, some of the most notable included in her prize-winning book Bridge Across Broken Time: Chinese and Jewish Cultural Memory, The Chinese Enlightenment, and her recent collection of poetry Ancestral Intelligence.


Xiaomiao Zhu