International recognition for Wolfson researcher

Wolfson Junior Research Fellow Thomas P Barrett researches the diplomatic history of East Asia


Dr Thomas P. Barrett has been presented with the 10th Historical Society of Japan Prize and been awarded the Royal Asiatic Society 2023 Bayly Prize for his research.


Dr Thomas P. Barrett has been presented with the 10th Historical Society of Japan Prize in recognition of an article he published in Japanese.

The Royal Asiatic Society also has awarded him the 2023 Bayly Prize for his doctoral thesis, “Foreigners and the Making of the Chinese Diplomat”.

His 2022 paper on Japan’s 1879 annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom, the present-day Okinawa prefecture, won the Japanese prize.

He said: “It is a real honour to have my research recognised in two completely disparate academic contexts, in Britain and Japan. I am grateful to the respective panels for their kind consideration of my work and for the ongoing intellectual and financial support provided by Wolfson and the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.”

Thomas’ doctoral research identifies how and when China came to adopt the diplomatic culture and practices of Western Europe from the 1800s through to early 1900s.  This includes the development of professional Chinese diplomats and modern statecraft, as seen through the lens of the foreigners working in the legations and consulates of the Qing Dynasty and Republican China. He is currently developing the thesis into a monograph for publication in English and Japanese.

Thomas, who grew up in Bath, started learning Japanese as a teenager. This eventually led him to developing a greater interest in East Asia and studying for a BA in Chinese and Chinese studies at Aichi University in Japan.

This has resulted in an academic career which has seen him study in Japan, China. Taiwan and the UK including at the University of Tokyo, National Taiwan University and the University of Oxford. He is now a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies in Cambridge.

His article in Shigaku Zasshi, the oldest academic journal of history in Japan, resulted in the Historical Society of Japan’s prize.  This prize is awarded to celebrate the work of scholars under 40, who have made a critical contribution to the historiography in the Japanese language.

The article analyses the private activities of American missionary Divie Bethune McCartee, who served at Qing China’s legation in Japan from 1877 to 1880. McCartee worked in a private capacity to try and combat Japan’s annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom, discrediting its propaganda efforts and working to find a solution which would placate all stakeholders in the islands—the Japanese, Qing China, and the Ryukyuans themselves.

The society praised Thomas’ approach to research and said: “The analytical perspectives and points made in this paper can be widely applied to research in other regions.”

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