UMBC historian Constantine Vaporis brings samurai scholarship to the public through TED-Ed animation

Published: Jul 23, 2020

Man with glasses, mustache and short beard is wearing a blue suit and striped tie smiles at camera with green trees in the foreground.

UMBC’s Constantine Vaporis, professor of history, has partnered with TED-Ed Animations to produce A Day In The Life of A Teenage Samurai. This original video draws from over thirty years of scholarship Vaporis has completed on Japanese history and culture. The video is part of TED’s award-winning youth education program whose mission is to “amplify and capture the work of the world’s greatest teachers.” It currently has over 550,000 views.

The life of a samurai

“The creative process for the video required about eight months and involved me as the writer and educator in collaboration with a large creative and technical team,” shares Vaporis, the first UMBC history professor to have his research animated. “It was crafted in a style that is meant to be engaging to young viewers, historically truthful, but not photorealistic.” 

The video is set in Kôchi, Japan in 1800. It is a brief window into the fictional life of 16-year-old Mori Banshirô, a samurai in training who aspires to be an artist. Banshirô’s journey takes place during the Edo period (1603 – 1868), which is the focus of Vaporis’s research. 

During this time, samurai also served as government officials, teachers, masters of the tea ceremony, and artists. In his latest book, Samurai. An Encyclopedia of Japan’s Cultured Warriors (ABC/CLIO, 2019), Vaporis explores the life, practice, and history of these warriors.

Vaporis continues to partner with TED-Ed. TED-Ed has invited him to be a regular collaborator on future videos about Japan. He has already critiqued two other animations.

Decades researching Japanese history

In addition to his appointment in history, Vaporis has also served as the founding director of UMBC’s Asian studies program and is an affiliate professor of gender, women’s, and sexuality studies. This year he is one of forty scholars selected from around the world as a 2020 – 2021 fellow in residence in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. During his fellowship Vaporis will work on his sixth book, Sword and Brush: Portraits of Samurai in Early Modern Japan.

Funding for Vaporis’s early research in Japan was through a Fulbright Scholars Award and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for College Teachers. He lived in Japan for seven years, completing archival research through these and additional fellowships.

This led to the books Breaking Barriers: Travel and the State in Early Modern Japan (Harvard University Press, 1995); Tour of Duty: Samurai, Military Service in Edo and the Culture of Early Modern Japan (University of Hawai’i Press, 2009); Nihonjin to sankin kôtai [The Japanese and Alternate Attendance] (Kashiwa shobô, 2010); and Voices of Early Modern Japan: Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life During the Age of the Shoguns (ABC/CLIO, 2012; Routledge, 2014, 2020).

Banner image: Constantine Vaporis at UMBC. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

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