Sunday, January 17, 2010
184) An Old China Friend: Rhoads Murphey (1)
Prof. Rhoads Murphey in his office in Lane Hall, 1997.
Rhoads Murphey......an Oral History!
by Marcus Willensky
Ann Arbor, 1997
Currently, Rhoads is, first and foremost, a Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Michigan, and although the title "Emeritus" might lead one to believe that Rhoads is "retired," he is in fact anything but retired. (1997)
Rhoads Murphey is a man of many titles, in a different age we might have called him a "jack of all trades," and I use the term with the utmost respect.
55 years ago he traveled to China to work for the "Friends Ambulance Unit." Driving old Chevrolet trucks, which had been converted to burn charcoal, this international group of young men braved bandits, bureaucratic red tape and, of course, the Japanese to bring much needed medical supplies to various far flung sights in southwest China. Although Rhoads was in China for only four years, 1942 to 1946, he packed a lifetime of experiences into them...seeing sights that most of us can only dream of and meeting people that we of a younger generation can only read about in history books.
Currently, Rhoads is, first and foremost, a Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Michigan, and although the title "Emeritus" might lead one to believe that Rhoads is "retired," he is in fact anything but retired.
He continues to teach a number of classes and was, until its reorganization last fall, the Director of the university's Asian Studies Program. But this is the University of Michigan, where research and publishing are king, and so Rhoads also counts among his many kudos the title "author" having written a number of books, most recently a text book entitled East Asia: A New History, published by Longman Press. As if this wasn't enough, he also acts as an academic advisor to undergraduate students, and it was in this latter capacity that I first met him in 1984.
I had just transferred to the University of Michigan from the New School for Social Research, in New York City, and thought it best to get some advice about what classes I should be taking as a "transfer student." As luck would have it, Rhoads was assigned to me as an academic advisor...and what luck it was! I introduced myself and explained my problem. Rhoads, who never seems to get flustered, asked me a few questions and then calmly guided me through my class selection...making phone calls where necessary, to ensure that I would get overrides for classes that were already filled, and "pooh pahing" my various apprehensions. He seemed to know everyone and everything...at least in the small world of Asian Studies, and why not...he was the Director.
It was through him that I went on to meet Roger Hackett and Victor Lieberman, who along with Rhoads, continually challenged me to "think harder, work harder, and try harder" than I ever had before. Ultimately it would be the recommendations which they would write which would help me to land my first jobs in Japan and then, 10 years later, take me back to the university's Center for Japanese Studies, where I am currently working on a Graduate Degree.
I enjoyed class with Rhoads because his lectures were always about a "living history." He had known the people, visited the places, and read the books...I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, in rapt attention, as he let drop small snippets of valuable insight into the topics that we discussed. I fell in love with his easy going approach to everything, and it would be no lie to say that he changed my life.
I had always wanted to confront him and say "Tell me everything you know!" But, in the end, it proved much harder than I imagined... Luckily, this assignment has given me the chance to realize my dream, and thankfully Rhoads agreed to give me a couple hours of his time to photograph and record him so that others might enjoy him as much as I do...enjoy!
Ann Arbor, 1997
(For more Oral Histories visit Film and Video 455's website)