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Prof. Ken Pyle: influencer, scholar, leader

Ken Pyle delivering a speech

November 3, 2015

Leading-edge in international studies 

Professor Kenneth B. Pyle may be retiring this year after 51 years of full-time teaching at the Jackson School of International Studies, but his influential role on international studies at the University of Washington and beyond continues to draw crowds.

On Oct. 27, over 160 Jackson School and University of Washington students, staff, alumni, faculty, Board members and heads of foundations and research institutes honored Dr. Pyle for his leadership, scholarship and contribution in promoting area studies at UW, bridging the gap between academia and policymaking, and increasing the understanding of Asia.

Some of Prof. Pyle’s key achievements:

  • Built support for research and training in international affairs at UW, especially during his 10-year directorship of the Jackson School, from 1978-1988, when he worked closely with Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, leading to the school being renamed in 1983 in the
    senator’s honor.
  • Received Japan’s most prestigious honor – Order of the Rising Sun – for his contributions to Japanese Studies.
  • Published many books, including The New Generation in Meiji Japan (1969), The Making of Modern Japan (1978), The Japanese Question: Power and Purpose in a New Era (1992), andJapan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose (2007) for which most have been revised, reprinted and translated into other languages, including Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, and Thai.
  • Was awarded the Special Prize for Japanese Studies in 2008 by the Japan Foundation, which included the rare honor of a private audience for Dr. Pyle and his wife with Japan’s emperor and empress.
  • Served as chairman of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, the U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange and the American Advisory Committee of the Japan Foundation.
  • In 2006, with support from The Henry M. Jackson Foundation, UW established the Anne H. H. and Kenneth B. Pyle Professorship in American Foreign Policy at the Jackson School of International Studies.
Examples of the many books and articles Prof. Pyle has authored in his academic career

Prof. Pyle is the author of many articles and books on Asia. He is currently working on a new book on Japan in the American world order.

Dr. Pyle founded numerous initiatives that continue today, notably:

  • The Journal of Japanese Studies, established by Dr. Pyle in 1974, is still housed at the University of Washington and remains the most important academic journal in the Japan field.
  • The National Bureau of Asian Research, for which Dr. Pyle was the founding president, is an independent research institute on strategic, political, economic, globalization, health and energy issues affecting U.S. relations with Asia, bridging the academic, business, and policy arenas.

Creating long-term impact

The recognition of Prof. Pyle’s work on the occasion of his retirement kicked off with a keynote lecture on “U.S. and the Rise of Asia” by noted scholar T.J. Pempel, who was also the Boeing Professor of International Studies in the Jackson School of International Studies from 1997 to 2001.

Jackson School Director Reşat Kasaba opened the event by emphasizing Professor Pyle’s real contribution to U.S. foreign policy and the study of Asia as “demonstrating the Jackson School’s strengths.” Associate Director and Professor Saadia Pekkanen, moderator of the lecture, underscored Dr. Pyle’s impact by noting his books and  articles, such as “Profound Forces in Making of Modern Japan,” in the Journal of Japanese Studies, that are still used today, including in her own teaching about Japan.

Prof. Pyle speaks with friends and colleagues who joined the lecture and retirement celebration

Prof. Pyle speaks with colleagues and friends at a lecture on the U.S. and Asia, hosted by the Jackson School on Oct. 27 in his honor, at Kane Hall.

In their remarks, a panel of five Jackson School faculty highlighted a range of Dr. Pyle’s influence as an “institutional innovator,” such as his role in the emergence of the Jackson School’s South Asia Center and strengthening of area studies, and lessons that historians can learn from Dr. Pyle’s career focus on bridging the gap between academia and policymaking. Professor Pyle provided the concluding remarks on the topic.

During the reception and dinner at UW Club that followed the lecture, UW colleagues and heads of institutions that Prof. Pyle helped to establish highlighted Prof. Pyle’s many achievements.

“My father [Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson] enlisted Dr. Pyle in a fundraising effort that would fulfill the needs of university and places like the U.S. Senate … he knew that Ken could do something extremely meaningful,” said Peter Jackson, a writer in Seattle, to over 80 of Dr. Pyle’s colleagues, former students, friends and family gathered for the dinner.

Anna Marie Laurence, secretary of The Henry M. Jackson Foundation Board of Governors, reflected on Dr. Pyle’s contribution as a board member for over 30 years. She added: “The Jackson Foundation chose to recognize Ken’s superb scholarship and leadership in his field, and the key role that Anne [Dr. Pyle’s wife] has played in his career, through the awarding of the Anne H. H. and Kenneth B. Pyle professorship a few years ago.”

University of California Prof. T.J. Pempel at Prof. Pyle's retirement celebration

University of California Berkeley Professor T.J. Pempel joins the reception and dinner celebration in honor of Prof. Pyle’s retirement.

Secretary of The Henry M. Jackson Foundation Board of Governors reflects on Prof. Pyle's significant contribution as a member of the Board for over 30 years.

Secretary of The Henry M. Jackson Foundation Board of Governors Anna Maria Laurence reflects on Prof. Pyle’s significant contribution as a member of the Board for over 30 years.


UW College of Arts and Sciences Dean Robert Stacey speaks about Prof. Pyle's contributions to the UW as part of the program to honor Prof. Pyle.

UW Dean of College of Arts and Sciences Robert Stacey noted that Prof. Pyle had served under 10 UW presidents and 13 deans of arts and sciences.

Jackson School Director Reşat Kasaba, Anand Yang, chair of the history department and former director of the Jackson School, and Richard J. Ellings, president of The National Bureau of Asian Research, also spoke about Dr. Pyle’s role in forging new paths in the promotion of bridging the gap between academic research and policymaking. Jackson School Emeritus Professor Donald C. Hellman, a long-time colleague of Prof. Pyle, provided closing remarks.

Dr. Pyle’s UW students have ranged from new undergraduates to graduate students who now teach about Japan at other universities around the world. His always-popular courses include the core of the Jackson School’s Japan Studies curriculum, History of Modern Japan, as well as Emergence of Postwar Japan, New Orders in East Asia, International Relations in East Asia, a seminar on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a graduate field course in modern Japanese history. A peer review of his teaching in 2010 said “Ken’s teaching is absolutely extraordinary.” He will continue to teach part-time at UW.