In Memoriam

Marilyn Gaull

We regret to inform readers that Marilyn Gaull, who had been a research professor at the Editorial Institute at Boston University, died on August 14, 2019 at the age of 81. A personal remembrance by her colleague, Archie Burnett, co-director of the Institute, may be found via this at bu.edu.

Aaron S. Moore, 1972-2019

by John DiMoia and Hiromi Mizuno

Aaron S. Moore was Associate Professor at Arizona State University,  in the history of technology in Modern Japan, and more than that, to many of us, a trusted friend and exciting intellectual partner. In the more formal venue of an éloge in the journal Isis, we have detailed his scholarship and academic profile. Here, we’d like to share a more personal side of Aaron, with stories as the co-editors of Engineering Asia (Bloomsbury 2018), his last publication. Working closely with him over its production from 2009 to 2018 gave us many memories to cherish and share.

The collaborative book project took Aaron and us to many places: his home institution in Arizona, Seoul National University in Korea,  the National University of Singapore, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Germany to name just a few. We also met regularly at various academic conferences including the Association of Asian Studies, History of Science Society, and Society for the History of Technology. Indeed it is extremely difficult for us to imagine AAS and HSS without Aaron, having met at their annual conferences almost every single time for the past nine years.

Our editorial meetings for Engineering Asia took many shapes at many places around the globe. For instance, in February 2015, we met in Seoul where Aaron was spending his sabbatical year. What was intended as a short briefing over breakfast at Seoul National University’s Hoam Faculty House restaurant, with two contributors Manyong Moon and Tae-ho Kim, turned out to be a 10-hour work meeting. Under the restaurant staff’s rather weary gaze, the breakfast turned into lunch, then progressed to a coffee order in the afternoon, and finally to dinner. Aaron had a  quiet but contagious excitement for ideas, a very patient approach to gathering everyone’s ideas, and the energy to keep going, in addition to many interesting and funny stories to share. This restaurant episode was just one example of how work time with Aaron was simultaneously a joyful, stimulating, and food-rich experience. In addition to being a real foodie—attested by photos he posted from all over the world—he himself was an excellent cook; we can enthusiastically testify to his culinary talent.

More than anyone we know, Aaron was a close follower of the English Premier League (EPL)—football or soccer for those among us less in the know—and a devoted fan of Arsenal, almost always looking for a game to attend or watch, whether in Europe, Asia, or North America. During the editorial meetings in summer 2014 in Singapore, we ended up watching a good deal of the World Cup, including the Germany-Argentina final, which took place in the middle of the night (or morning, if you prefer) given the time difference. We stayed up all night in my (John’s) apartment, watching as the game went until nearly dawn. In 2017, as we held the final editorial meetings for the volume in Arizona over two-and-a-half days, Aaron and John took a short break to watch the second half of the Super Bowl—and we have Hiromi and his wife, Nila, to thank for permitting this indulgence—in which the Patriots came back to defeat Atlanta. Aaron was not pleased. In sport as in his scholarship, we remember, he was rarely a fan of the dominant power, the hegemon, and sought instead, to root for the alternative, the new, the unexpected reframing.

A graduate of University of Virginia before undertaking graduate studies in history at Cornell, Aaron followed the UVA basketball team closely and to this day, remains the only academic in our knowledge, to possess an abiding interest in the post-up abilities of Olden Polynice (center for the 1984 UVA NCAA Final Four team), not to mention Ralph Sampson. Aaron was overjoyed when UVA won the NCAA tournament in 2019 and immediately bought a commemorative t-shirt, which he then wore to a talk he gave at Virginia Tech. It is unclear how the Virginia Tech community responded to this, but they probably recognized Aaron’s genuine joy in a UVA victory after many years of waiting.

Aaron (second from left) at a session with colleagues at Hoam Faculty House, Seoul National University, February 2015

Aaron (second from left) at a session with colleagues at Hoam
Faculty House, Seoul National University, February 2015.

Aaron was a tireless traveler and researcher. It was during these meetings as well as at post-panel dinners at conferences that we would hear updates on his research for his second book, Damming Asia: The Cold War and Japanese Post-Colonial Overseas Development. He often talked about “groundedness,” the favorite word of wartime Japanese engineers and scientists to differentiate their approach from what they saw as Western engineers’ and scientists’ bookish and elitist approach. Aaron did not share their polemics but was certainly one of most “grounded” historians we know. Not only to archives in various countries, he also traveled to many of the dam and construction sites he was researching, as evidenced by the numerous photographs of him wearing a hard hat at these locations. In South Korea, he frequently visited the Seoul water company’s library, where the holdings spanning from the colonial to post-independence periods were displayed in open shelf style.

When visiting overseas archives and sites, he made every attempt to understand the local scholarship and perspectives (and of course, food). Sometimes, such efforts resulted in funny consequences. While in Seoul 2014, Aaron visited the Park Chung Hee Museum at the advice of SNU Professor Park Tae-gyun. When the curators informed him that the library was, unfortunately, not open, he took advantage of the opportunity to tour the museum. The museum was filled with wonderful images of President Park and South Korea’s growth through the 1960s and 1970s, a genre Aaron named “Pictures of Park Chung Hee Pointing at Things”—buildings, construction sites, mountains, rivers. At the end of the tour, he was asked to sign the guestbook, a standard gesture, and was surprised when asked to pose for a picture. Several months later, this picture appeared in the Park Chung Hee foundation’s newsletter, with a caption emphasizing the significance of foreign scholars coming to pay homage to Park’s legacy. Aaron had to hear many a joke about this incident from his colleagues, as his scholarly aims were so clearly distinct from those of the museum.

At the memorial event held in Aaron’s honor at ASU in November 2019, Hiromi talked about how Aaron was like her intellectual twin brother, whose research interest overlapped closely, who shared a vision and ambitions for the future directions of the field, and who even developed a Global WWII course at the same time without knowing about the other’s course. Furthermore, one would not easily find someone who could immediately email back at 5AM sharing the same excitement about an obscure engineer magazine. Another speaker at the memorial event, John Kim—a personal friend of Aaron from his graduate-school days and a professor of German literature and philosophy—then piped up to say that he was a triplet sibling as he felt the same way. But it was not just us. What is amazing about Aaron is that so many people indeed felt this way about him. We discovered that this feeling of Aaron being the special intellectual and/or personal ally was shared by very many people who knew him well. There is something deeply comforting about this realization. Those of us who worked with Aaron, we think, understand.

Aaron at Balu Chaung Power Station No. 2 in Lawpita (Kayah State, Myanmar), Japan’s first wartime reparations project built between 1954 and 1962.
Aaron at Balu Chaung Power Station No. 2 in Lawpita (Kayah State, Myanmar), Japan’s first wartime reparations project built between 1954 and 1962 in ethnic Kayah and Karenni areas during the U Nu and Ne Win regimes, June 2018.

With his increasing number of publications, Aaron attracted great attention from younger scholars, and was frequently asked to serve on conference panels, to read dissertations and manuscripts, and to act as a referee for various journals. The list of individuals he worked with in these tasks is lengthy, and included graduate students from Johns Hopkins University, Seoul National University, Stanford University, Virginia Tech University, and of course, his home institution. Given his home in Arizona, he interacted frequently with colleagues in California at UC Irvine, UCLA, and Stanford, and when traveling internationally, he held extensive personal networks in Japan (Kobe, Tokyo), Singapore, South Korea (Seoul, Jeonju), and Germany (Tübingen). In 2014, along with Lisa Onaga of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, he organized a workshop at ASU, which became the basis for a special issue in Technology and Culture.

What is more remarkable is that Aaron had many friendship circles like this beyond the academic world, for example around his interest in human rights activism in Sri Lanka, as well as around music, sports, to name just a couple of others. Aaron cherished and nurtured rich human connection more than anyone we know. He had a truly global network of friends and families, reflecting his cosmopolitan upbringing, his culturally rich family, and his companionship with Nila, with whom he traveled all over the world.

All these connections nourished Aaron’s scholarship and methodology. Comfortable in at least four languages at a high degree of proficiency—English, Japanese, Korean, and German—Aaron brought this diverse background to his work, visiting and giving presentations at numerous international sites, and doing the administrative work necessary to get Korean Studies on a stronger footing at his home institution, Arizona State. For work in Japan, moreover, he reached out to government agencies, and was invited to present at the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which he criticized in his work, as the representatives there hoped to learn from his historical work.

Aaron was a true friend, intellectual collaborator, and above all, someone who lived fully in all things, whether books, food, sports, or politics. A scholar who left his mark on all those whom he encountered, Aarons’s work is well-known across a range of fields. But he will also be remembered as a beautiful person whose life was so full and rich. That sense of him always being there for you meant the whole world to many of us. We will deeply miss receiving reading lists at random moments, exchanging e-mail about colonial water records or obscure engineers’ career at wee hours, sharing food, music, ideas, and laughter, and seeing his shy and warm smile.

John DiMoia is Associate Professor of Korean History at Seoul National University and Hiromi Mizuno is Associate Professor of Japanese History at University of Minnesota.