David Spafford

Wolf Humanities Center Faculty Fellow

20192020 Forum on Kinship

David Spafford

Associate Professor of Premodern Japanese History, EALC 

David Spafford is Associate Professor of Premodern Japanese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Penn, where he teaches courses on samurai and the invention of bushidō (the famous and mostly fantastical Way of the Warrior), on early modern urbanization, and on premodern law and violence. He is the author of A Sense of Place: The Political Landscape in Late Medieval Japan (Harvard, 2013), which explores the resilience of medieval and supposedly outdated regional identities and cultural geographies during a civil war that lasted more than a hundred years in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Currently he is at work on a book about the role and bounds of kinship in warrior society between 1450 and 1650.

Corporate Kinship: The Warrior House in Japan, 1450–1650

Never as keenly as during the war-torn sixteenth century was Japan’s warrior class concerned with the possible, sudden destruction of families. The center of everyone’s existence in society, families were really a sprawling institution combining blood-relatives (the house-head and his wife, his parents, and his heir) with marriage relations and hereditary followers. Although retaining the allegiance of affines and retainers was as challenging as besting rivals on the battlefield, a family’s consanguineous core was supposedly as stable as its outer edges were everchanging. Yet (among other contradictions) heirs were routinely adopted from non-kin, at once complicating the meaning of family and opening views on contemporaries’ understanding of members’ investment in such organizations. My project asks: What did it mean to be part of a family?