Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Conrad Totman Papers
On a wintry 5th of January, 1934, Conrad Davis Totman was born in an upstairs bedroom of the house on the family farm in Conway, Massachusetts. His father, Raymond Smith Totman, decided that it was too dangerous to drive his wife ten miles on unpaved, unplowed, and unreliable roads to the nearest hospital in Greenfield. Thus, the family doctor made the trek to the farm on that cold and snowy day, and helped Mildred Kingsbury Totman deliver her second son. Conrad was preceded by his brother, Leland, in 1931, and followed by two sisters, Barbara in 1936, and Gail in 1937. The third generation of Totmans to work the farm known as "Broomshire" was complete.
As the children progressed in age, so too did their responsibilities and chores around the farm. At various points in his childhood, Conrad was responsible for duties such as the care of chickens, herding the dairy cows and calves out to pasture, cleaning udders prior to milking, and assisting the older workers with their own duties. Later, when Conrad became one of those older workers, he joined in other duties such as mowing, drying and baling hay, cultivating and drying tobacco, tapping maple trees for sap, harvesting, processing and ensiling field corn for cattle feed, tending to honeybee "supers," felling trees for firewood and lumber, and minding the vegetable garden.
Academically, Conrad excelled. After finishing grammar school locally in Conway, he started High School at Arms Academy in nearby Shelburne Falls. In 1952, Totman graduated from Arms second in his class. He enrolled in the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the fall as an Ornamental Horticulture major. Totman's interest in gardening made horticulture a logical choice, but study at the university was not as exciting as he thought. He was enrolled in the Army's Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at UMass, and the regular Army seemed like a good place to sort out his future. So, after a year in Amherst, Totman shipped out to fulfill his enlistment for a three year stint. The decision to enlist in the Army would prove to be the choice that changed his life.
After training to become a sanitary technician at camps in Virginia and Texas, Totman shipped out to Korea. The war had officially ended about ten months before, and South Korea was in the process of reconstruction. Totman was assigned to the 78th Preventive Medicine Control Detachment (PMCD). The unit was responsible for maintaining sanitary conditions both in the Army's camps and in the re-building villages in the countryside. Totman was a part of snap inspections of Army facilities such as mess halls and latrines. Another part of his job was to get samples from standing water to test for mosquito larvae. If enough larvae were present, then a sprayer would be hauled in to kill the potential disease-spreading mosquitoes, in addition to putting any nearby humans at risk as well, unbeknownst to anyone at the time.
During his stay in South Korea, Totman was an avid photographer, snapping pictures of everyday life, both in and out of the military camp. He was able to take pictures in cities like Seoul and Pyongyang on leave. On rest and recuperation (R&R) trips, he was able to see nearby Japan, a country with which he immediately fell in love. He took numerous photos and longed to return while stationed back in Korea. The break-up of the 78th PMCD lead to his reassignment to the 207th PMCD. Here, in a bonafide permanent hospital (as opposed to a temporary tent,) his job was to identify mosquito larvae and to organize the information about them. Then, in February of 1955, Totman was given another reassignment to the 10th Preventive Medicine Survey Detachment--in Japan! Finally, he would be able to spend a good amount of time here. But destiny also awaited him at the 10th PMSD, for the secretary to the commanding officer was a woman named Michiko Ikegami. They met for the first time on February 28, 1955, and have scarcely been apart since.
For almost a year and a half, Conrad and Michiko grew closer and spent increasing amounts of time together. In June 1956, however, Totman's enlistment ran out, and he was shipped back home. Soon after, Michiko quit her job and sailed on a cargo ship to San Diego. A plane carried her to Chicago, and thence to Hartford, where Aunt Ruth waited to drive her up to Amherst. There she enrolled at UMass, as a sociology major, and Conrad re-enrolled as a history major, with plans to concentrate on Japan. They were married at the Totman family farm in Conway on January 28, 1958. Totman graduated in June - second in his class (again) - and was accepted into Harvard as a graduate student in history. Michiko finished her degree in June of 1959 at the campus of UMass Boston.
By 1960, Totman finished his master's degree in East Asian Studies and in 1961 completed course requirements for a Ph.D. in East Asian History. Michiko, meanwhile, worked as a cataloguer in Harvard's East Asian Library. However, Conrad still needed to make an extended trip to Japan in order to do research for his dissertation on politics during the Tokugawa period, so the couple made all the preparations, and finally were able to return to Japan. After a brief visit with the Ikegami family, they moved into their own house. Totman studied and wrote his thesis, while Michiko worked, again doing cataloguing-related work at a library, all the while speaking only in Japanese to aid Conrad. Their time was punctuated by sightseeing trips all around Japan, and visits from people such as Aunt Ruth, or Conrad's sister Gail. Two years later, in November of 1963, Totman's complete his research, and it was time to return to America. They ended up taking the long way back, going via places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Egypt, Greece, and western Europe, finally arriving back in Conway in time for Christmas.
In June 1964, Totman received his PhD and secured a teaching position at the University of California at Santa Barbara. They rented half of a duplex for a short while, but the addition of Kathleen Junko Totman into the family proved reason to find a more permanent abode. They found a place in time to receive Christopher Ken Totman into the family, and prepared to spend a good amount of time in California. Soon after, though, Totman was asked to take a position in the History Department at Northwestern University, which he accepted. In the summer of 1966, the family moved to Evanston, Illinois, where they would stay until the children completed their public schooling, with Conrad continuing his teaching and writing and Michiko working in the Evanston public school system's Japanese-English bilingual program.
After eighteen years teaching at Northwestern University, Conrad accepted a position at Yale University, which began in the fall of 1984. Although Totman had made many friends and acquaintances during his stay in Illinois, the move to Yale made sense as his children were out of public school, and New Haven, Connecticut was conveniently close to his family and boyhood home in Conway, Massachusetts.
During his career, Toman worked on a wide variety of topics in early modern and modern Japan, ranging from the collpase of the Tokugawa Shogunate to forestry and the lumber industry in Japan, a topic reflecting his early years at an agricultural college. He taught courses of equal diversity, and upon retirement in 1997, was granted emeritus status. Conrad and Michiko Totman continue to live near New Haven.