‘Tsundoku’ or our unread history | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

‘Tsundoku’ or our unread history

Tsundoku” is the Japanese word for stacks of books you bought but have not read. I have a lot of those. I grew up in a house with books because my father was a reader. He had a taste for crime and whodunits, so the lower shelves of our library were filled with Erle Stanley Gardner and Mickey Spillane books with sexually suggestive covers. I often heard him curse upon reading the first page of a newly bought book because he discovered he bought the same book with different covers! So much for judging books by their covers. In his 90s, he was reading John Grisham and James Patterson, though not the books of my friend James Hamilton-Paterson, on an iPad. Unlike my father who bought books for pleasure and read all of them, I buy books for reference and for work, so I don’t necessarily need to read them right away. I don’t even need to read them cover to cover when I only need an excerpt, a footnote, or a citation.

Joseph Ralston Hayden (1887-1945) is a name that won’t ring a bell among Filipino readers, but it’s a name familiar to Filipino historians and political scientists for the classic work “The Philippines: A Study in National Development” (1941). I own a beautiful hardcover edition in mint condition because, as tsundoku, it has remained unread for years. I came across Hayden while researching in the Bentley Historical Library, at the University of Michigan. The finding guide to his papers revealed that he was one in a long line of “Michigan Men” who served in the Philippines as colonial administrators or servicemen in World War II.


Hayden earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and taught in its political science department for many years, a term interrupted only when he was in the Philippines. He first came to Manila as an exchange professor at the University of the Philippines from 1922 to 1923 and traveled through the islands as a special correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. His research and writing gave him a reputation as an expert in Philippine affairs, which led to his appointment as vice governor of the Philippines and secretary of public instruction by Franklin Roosevelt. He assisted another “Michigan Man,” Frank Murphy, former Detroit mayor who was appointed governor general of the Philippines. Hayden returned to the University of Michigan after the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth. His knowledge of Philippine affairs led to service in the US war department, attached to the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur during World War II.

Hayden’s papers fill 55 boxes, the core of which are on the Philippines, including some rare film footage of Manila, Ilocos, the Mountain Province, and the Sulu Archipelago shot in the 1930s. Some boxes of documents were collected by Hayden’s assistant Lloyd Millegan that need to be studied, as these contain subjects such as “Political situation in the Philippines and impressions of Douglas MacArthur and Manuel Quezon” or “Military espionage and spies.” It even has notes on Hayden’s conversations with MacArthur and Quezon. I am curious about the correspondence exchanged between US President Franklin Roosevelt, Quezon, and Sergio Osmeña in 1943 on the matter of Philippine presidential succession and a file on Quezon continuing as Commonwealth president after November 1943.


Going over the folders on “Public Order,” I found press clippings on the 1931 Tayug Uprising, a failed agrarian revolt headed by Pedro Calosa crushed by the Philippine Constabulary. Another file was on the “Sakdalistas.” There were files on government attempts to address the agrarian roots of social unrest through a plan to buy friar lands and distribute these to tenants. All these clippings made for painful reading, simply because many of the problems and issues of the past are still around in a different shape and form. A folder on “Opium” gave a picture of the drug problem in the past that remains unsolved despite the former president’s murderous war on drugs. There was a rice crisis in 1935 that required the importation of Saigon rice that was sold cheaply to the poor. Issues were the same: cartels that controlled supply and influenced prices, middlemen who lived off both the producers and the consumers, and corruption in government. Change 1935 rice crisis to 2022 onion crisis and the news of today reads like the past. Do the solutions to our present problems lie in the tsundoku or unread archives of the past?


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