Reflecting on a semester

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:22 am

We’ve been talking about our syllabi for a while here at the Frogs, but we haven’t done a lot of post-semester commentary. I had two Asia courses this semester: Early Japan and Problems and Issues of Contemporary China.

The China course went like gangbusters, and the books worked surprisingly well as a set. The Hessler was a solid starter, and I think I’m going to use it as my closer next time I teach the 20c China course. I followed it up with Cohen’s historiography, which was risky: only one of the five students in the class had anything like a serious historical background. Still, the theoretical perspectives he was describing are still very much alive, and it gave us a structure to talk about a lot of what came after. Qian Qichen’s diplomatic memoir was a nice corrective — focusing on strengths, and the Chinese perspective on the world — and the pre/post-9/11 talks transcribed in the appendices are great texts in themselves: I highly recommend them for anyone teaching a world politics or recent China course. My only concern is that it felt a little light. But if there had been more students, then the student-led reading/discussion section would have been denser. Anyway, aside from one supplemental reference which got underused, if I get to teach this course again, I’m keeping everything. I think it would work pretty well for undergrads, too.

The Early Japan course was a bit more mixed. I’m still trying to do too much, it seems: I need to spend more time on skills in the surveys, especially when I don’t have a core text. Berry’s Culture of Civil War in Kyoto was a great “slice of life” text, and actually sparked some discussion at a point in the semester when interest has often flagged. I can’t in good conscience give up the Genji and Heike readings, but I think I’m going to have to be more selective about the rest of the readings. I really want to add at least one good monograph on an earlier period, to parallel Berry. I’m thinking about Farris or Friday, and about adding student research and presentations to the document-based analysis assignments.

I need to look ahead now. I’ll be teaching my Qing course in the Fall, and so far it’s looking like a small crowd: perfect for the kind of scholarship I’m assigning. I want to work in a stronger research component than I had last time, though, to give students more of a chance to stretch their legs, so to speak.


In honor of finals

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:03 am

I was going through some old papers last month and came across a collection of student exam bloopers and exclamations (you’ll see) from what was — I’m pretty sure — a 20th century Japan course I taught back in the 90s. Since the statute of limitations on embarassment must have run out by now, I present them to you for pure entertainment.

  • ALL IS HAZE! (in the corner of the first page)
  • Pretty intense exam (on cover)
  • AAARGH!! MUST GRADUATE! AND FAST! (at the end of a very short essay)
  • (And now a new party, perhaps, will rise from the Underbelly of Satan)
  • They were protected during the Cold War from nuclear invasion.
  • Japan after WWII was in rubles
  • I hope these are enough … if I discuss all of these it will take forever.
  • In a 1984 public opinion poll, Yoshida Shoin was overwhelmingly declared the greatest Japanese figure of the 20th century
  • Argh (at the end of an essay apparently cut short by time)
  • (title of essay): Chia Economy
  • The period following the war was a time of double-digit growth in the Japanese economy. As I am uncertain of which war exactly, I will discuss factors common to the period after WWI and WWII. I believe WWI was the period of double-digit growth.
  • Why couldn’t you have put on some of the 75 IDs I knew?


What’s New?

  • The University of Hawai’i at Manoa Center for Japanese Studies has a new collection of Occupation-era photographs. I’m struck by two things in particular: the persistence of traditional production, agriculture and fishing methods; the repatriated soldiers, who seem quite happy to be home.
  • Nothing new here: Japanese textbooks omit Japanese atrocities1 , draw fire from China, Koreas.2 However, it’s worth noting that this was from Andrew Bell, writing at the official blog of the American Historical Association. It’s nice to see Asian history getting some note, though it would be even nicer if it wasn’t the same-old, same-old. For a really fresh take on the textbook/nationalism question, I highly recommend Ian Condry’s article about alternative media and non-nationalistic historical visions in Japan.
  • Kevin Murphy noted the appearance of a new report on WWII “comfort women” and US collusion in the Occupation era “comfort stations” for US GIs. This got more attention than usual because it coincided with PM Abe’s visit to the US. Interestingly, he did apologize (repeatedly), and President Bush accepted him at his word. However, apologies have no legal weight, it seems, and the “apology fund” attempt to privatize absolution failed miserably. (Non-sexual slave laborers also denied compensation, so at least they’re consistent). You can find the whole Congressional Research Service report here.
  • In the “read it or not, you’re going to have to have an opinion” category, comes an announcement of a new broadside volley in the Atomic Bomb historiography, a bold attempt edited by Robert James Maddox to present the full array pro-bomb arguments against “revisionists.” Gar Alperovitz and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa are named as particular targets of these essays. The press release (that’s all it is, so don’t expect a balanced review) contains not the slightest hint that an honest scholar could doubt the ineffable wisdom of history as it happened, a Panglossian view with a real edge.
  • Speaking of broadsides, Vietnam War revisionist (here it’s a good thing) Mark Moyar couldn’t find a job and the usual arguments about politicization in the academy are offered by the usual suspects. Note, however: he’s applied for “more than 150″ jobs in “over five years.” US history positions routinely attract 80-150 applications; I don’t know how many jobs my Americanist colleagues usually apply to in a job search year, but even in my little Asian history corner of the market I’ve had years in which I made 20 applications. He sounds like a strong candidate almost anywhere (and it sounds like he’s made the short list a fair number of times), but I’ve seen plenty of searches from both sides and the process is never a simple head-to-head c.v. weigh-off: This is what makes it hard for candidates, I admit, but it also means that it’s awfully hard to conclude anything, even from a lot of rejections. He’s teaching at a better school than I am now, and suing a top-tier program, to boot.
  • There is a high liklihood that almost two hundred Japanese Christian martyrs of the pre-seclusion era will be beatified later this year. I haven’t been able to find a press report online with more details: every report I’ve seen echoes this one in highlighting the “pacifist samurai” angle.
  • Takamatsuzuka tomb restoration work begins
  • Collaboration doesn’t pay? The South Korean government is going to seize assets owned by the descendants of collaborators going back to members of the cabinet which signed the annexation treaty in 1910. I can see this going one of three ways: it gets tied up in court and never goes any further; a very high bar is set for the definition of “collaboration”, leading to generations of debate about the historicity and utility of such definitions, not to mention considerable acrimony regarding boderline cases; a vague definition of collaboration results in a flood of cases, lawsuits, historical geneological and pseudo-historical disputes, charges of favoritism, deeper corruption and the release of massive quantities of new and interesting historical materials into the public sphere.
  1. see also this, this []
  2. At the same time, China and Korea are moving ahead with joint historical projects with Japan []

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