Kären Wigen

  (Redirected from Kären E. Wigen)

Kären Esther Wigen (born December 29, 1958)[citation needed] is an American historian, geographer, author and educator. She is a history professor at Stanford University.[1]

Early life and educationEdit

Wigen was born in East Lansing, Michigan, United States.[citation needed] She graduated from University of Michigan in 1980, where she studied Japanese literature. She earned her doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley in geography in 1990.[1]


Wigen taught at Duke University beginning in 1990.[citation needed] Currently she is Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, Stanford University.[1][2] She specializes in East Asia, and she teaches Japanese history and history of cartography.


Wigen's first book, The Making of a Japanese Periphery, 1750-1920 (1995), explores southern Nagano Prefecture in Japan and how the silk industry transformed it. The Making of Japanese Periphery, 1750-1920 won the 1992 John K. Fairbank Prize of the American Historical Association.

She studied the same locality in her second book, A Malleable Map: Geographies of Restoration in Central Japan, 1600-1912(2010), exploring the roles of cartography, chorography, and regionalism. A Malleable Map, wrote one reviewer, examines how "protoindustrial enterprises" such as sericulture and papercraft appeared on maps and reflected larger economic and political changes over roughly four centuries from the Tokugawa period through the Meiji period. Wigen focuses on how the relationship between regional and national identities "played an integral role in the creation of modern Japan".[3] She argues that the pictorial and nonpictorial ways in which the geographical location of Shinano was shown redefined the ways in which people conceived of the place. These ways were "malleable" because they changed according to the needs and priorities of Tokugawa shoguns, merchants, Meiji officials, travelers, and scholars.[4]

Her third book, The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography (1997), co-authored with Martin Lewis, explains why the present system of classifying certain landmasses as "continents" is comparatively recent and derived more from historical accident and political concerns than from natural geographical features. Reviewers also generally welcomed The Myth of Continents. One noted that readers would find it a "useful volume" which dealt with Eurocentrism, Afrocentrism, Orientalism, postcolonial thought, and geographic education. Because it summarized classic and contemporary research, the volume was "an important stepping-stone between frequently obtuse, jargon-laden academic works on the one hand, and popular views of geography on the other." Lewis and Wigen's concern is metageography, which they define as "the set of spatial structures through which people order their knowledge of the world" They find that geographies are "much more than just the ways in which societies are stretched across the earth's surface. They also include the contested, arbitrary, power-laden, and often inconsistent ways in which those structures are represented epistemologically."[5]

The anthropologist Rita Kipp in reviewing the book wrote:

What is "mythical" about the canonical seven continents we learned in school is that their sometimes arbitrary boundaries can derail our generalizations about culture and history. The way "Africa" is used in much Afro-centric scholarship, for example, overlooks the cultural divide marked roughly by the Sahara Desert. Perhaps the most vexing continents, however, are Asia and Europe, the boundary between them being the tinder for many scholarly disputes. Martin and Wigen object, above all, when geographical determinism creeps into our talk of these "continents," as if the land forms themselves and their analytical separability explain why people live and think differently in these places.[6]

Kipp confessed "I found myself in a defensive mood during much of this book, and sometimes bored with what I thought I already knew about Eurocentrism, Orientalism, and the social construction of all scholarly categories and boundaries. The total effect, however, is finally arresting."[6]

The geographical historian James M. Blaut, however, while praising the usefulness of the book, called it "pretentious" and their argument "rather conventional and indeed rather conservative." He especially criticized their use of the term "metageography": "the word metageography seems to have been coined by the authors as an impressive-sounding synonym for 'world cultural geography.'"[7] This led to a forum in the Journal of World History, where Lewis and Wigen replied,[8] and Blaut responded, "Perhaps I overemphasized the shortcomings; if I did so, it was because the tone of the book is more than a bit off-putting."[9]

In April 2015, she delivered the Edwin O. Reischauer Lectures at Harvard University on the topic "Where in the World? Mapmaking at the Asia-Pacific Margin, 1600-1900."[2]

Wigen's latest project is another collaboration, Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps, with co-editors Sugimoto Fumiko and Cary Karacas (forthcoming 2016).[1]

List of major publicationsEdit

  • —— (1995). The Making of a Japanese Periphery, 1750-1920. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.
  • ——; Lewis, Martin W. (1997). The Myth of Continents : A Critique of Metageography. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520207424.
  • ——; Bentley, Jerry H.; Bridenthal, Renate (2007). Seascapes: Maritime Histories, Littoral Cultures, and Transoceanic Exchanges. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 9780824830274.
  • —— (2010). A Malleable Map: Geographies of Restoration in Central Japan, 1600-1912. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520259188.
  • ——; Sugimoto, Fumiko; Karacas, Cary (2016). Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226073057.

Personal lifeEdit

Wigen married Martin W. Lewis on August 13, 1983.[citation needed] They collaborated on the 1997 book, The Myth of Continents[10] among other endeavors.


  1. ^ a b c d "Kären Wigen". Department of History, Stanford University. 2015. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Where in the World? Mapmaking at the Asia-Pacific Margin, 1600-1900". Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  3. ^ Wigen, Kären (2010). A Malleable Map: Geographies of Restoration in Central Japan, 1600-1912. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 19. ISBN 9780520259188.
  4. ^ Chervin, Reed H. (2013). "Review" (PDF). Studies on Asia. Illinois State University. 3: 87–90. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-04. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  5. ^ Warf, Barney (1998). "Book Reviews" (PDF). African Studies Quarterly. University of Florida Board of Trustees. 1 (4).
  6. ^ a b Kipp, Rita Smith (1999), "Book Review: The Myth Of Continents" (PDF), ASIANetwork Exchange, 6 (3): 15
  7. ^ Blaut, James M. (1999). "The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography (Review)". Journal of World History. 10 (1): 205–210. doi:10.1353/jwh.2005.0002. S2CID 161487395.
  8. ^ Lewis, Martin W.; Wigen, Karen (2000). "Third Worldism or Globalism? Reply to James M. Blaut's Review of the Myth of Continents". Journal of World History. 11 (1): 81–92. doi:10.1353/jwh.2000.0017. S2CID 143947387.
  9. ^ Blaut, James M (2000). "On Myths and Maps: A Rejoinder to Lewis and Wigen". Journal of World History. 11 (1): 93–100. doi:10.1353/jwh.2000.0003. S2CID 145577317.
  10. ^ Wigen, Kären; Lewis, Martin W. (1997). The Myth of Continents : A Critique of Metageography. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520207424.

External linksEdit