Dig into those archives: History Carnival and Cliopatria Awards

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:17 am

Two deadlines are fast approaching:

  • nominations for Cliopatria Awards for best blogging, 2008 (covering from December 2007 through November 2008) close Sunday at midnight. I am one of the judges so there are several categories I can’t nominate in (or be nominated in): you have to do it yourself!
  • nominations for the December History Carnival (covering November) also close Sunday at midnight. Nominations page here. I will be hosting the carnival here, so keep an eye out!


Noteworthy Archaeological Sites, Issue 2008

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 7:37 pm

Walter Edwards of Tenri University reported in a message to H-Japan that the newest issue of “Noteworthy Archaeological Sites” is online. The report consists of a selection of items from 『発掘された日本列島2008』, translated into English. The members of the Committee for International Relations of the Japanese Archaeological Association (JAA), who translate these and other materials on the JAA website, have carefully chosen at least one site from each major period in Japanese archaeological studies: paleolithic, Jomon, Yayoi, Kofun, antiquity, medieval, and “modern” (which seems to begin in the 16th century).



Syllabus Query: 18th Century Japan

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:23 pm

I’m teaching my Japan Since 1700 course next semester for the first time. I’ve taught Japan since 1800 and 1868; I’ve taught Japan 1600-1900 and 20c Japan. I have two issues which are bugging me as I put in my (late, I know) book orders: Textbook and the 18th century:



Only in Japan: Yakuza Sued

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:26 pm

The New York Times is reporting on tensions between the Dojinkai and the civilians living in the neighborhood of their headquarters. Two features of this are worth noting in the context of the Samurai course. First, the Yakuza are widely acknowledged to be one of the last, greatest bastions of feudal samurai concepts of honor and the utility of violence; comparing the modern yakuza to medieval samurai is shockingly fruitful. Second, the social order represented by the neighborhood association is a modern incarnation of the horizontal alliances described by Berry in The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto, the ikki as described by Ikegami, and the goningumi of the great Tokugawa order.

Even the appeal to law, civil authorities, is quite traditional: though the Japanese are considered “non-litigious” it’s really not true of the present or the past. In the present, a lot of disputes are dealt with through arbitration systems that aren’t that different from small-claims courts. In the past, of course, the petition to authority and the lawsuit were common enough to be one of our best historical sources. [crossposted to Japanese History]

Late Update: Going through old email, I found this McNeill Adelstein report on the current state of yakuza. I was surprised to see that the 1992 law had so little effect: when I was in Japan in ’94-95, it seemed like it had done some good.


Another Disappointment

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:34 pm

I always get a little nervous when a world history textbook cites details about Japanese history which I’ve never heard of before. I’m still mostly enjoying teaching with Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s The World: A Global History, but I’m also still having some trouble with the Asian material.1 Imagine my surprise when I turned to the chapter on “Global Politics in the Twentieth Century” and it opened with this anecdote:

In the Manchuria of the 1920s and 1930s, the brothels in the city of Harbin were not merely, or even primarily, places of vice, but resembled clubs, where the regular clients became friends and met each other. The Russian journalist Aleksandr Pernikoff frequented Tayama’s, which was Japanese owned and flew the Japanese flag. At the time, Manchuria was part of the sovereign territory of China, but Tayama’s displayed signs of the gradually increasing level of Japanese infiltration. The Chinese government—run by the nationalist, republican party known as the Guomindang (gwoh-meen-dohng)— rightly suspected Japan of plotting to seize Manchuria, detach it from China, and turn it into part of the Japanese Empire.

Ron Loftus has an essay at his website which supports the brothel/secret agent contentions.2 I’m not terribly familiar with the literature on the secret societies and espionage, I admit, but my impression has been that the secret societies were a sideshow, more a symptom of the expansive nationalism of the early 20th century than a driving force.3 The text continues:

  1. I’m also not entirely happy with the “one topic over the whole world for a century” structure in the 20th century. It worked OK in the earlier segments, but the 19th century was a gallop and the 20th is pedal-to-the-metal. Yikes. []
  2. The authorship of the essay is actually a bit unclear, and there is a bibliography, but no citations. The sources listed range from the fairly authoritative (Yuki Tanaka) to the very unfamiliar but with somewhat lurid titles. []
  3. In fairness, as a social historian, I’m naturally deeply suspicious of conspiracy theories, and prefer to look at long-term structural causes. []


Japanese City Plans and Topographical Maps from the US Occupation

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:11 am

While I’m sure there are a lot of similar resources that deserve equal mention, I wanted to post a link while it is fresh on my mind. There are a great collection of online maps of Japan available for direct viewing via the website of the University of Texas Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection. They include a list of US army topographic maps from around 1954 and Japanese city plans from 1945-1946. Wonderful to be able to download this directly and see what these places looked like as of the end of the war.

Japan Topographic Maps
Japan City Plans

You might want to also check out their China maps and Chinese historical maps.

If you agree that this is a great resource, consider leaving them a comment thanking them for making it available online via the U of Texas library comment page.

New Media and Japanese Studies

WARNING: those of you interested in Japanese studies but not in internet technologies, new media, and the whole question of how digital learning does or doesn’t effect academia should go no further. Here there be dragons.

I had the chance to attend a very unusual conference this past week. Well, “attend” is perhaps not the best word. This particular conference was held in Second Life, an unusual and large online community–technically a virtual world–in which you manipulate an “avatar” (kind of like a personalized character) to navigate an incredibly diverse landscape of “sims” (simulations, which translate into islands). People build buildings, art, natural environments, they buy and design and rent out sims, they sell virtual products and services, they collaborate or compete in games or educational endeavors, they socialize at dances and raves, and they do everything else that you can (or possibly can’t) imagine. I had never entered Second Life until the head of academic technology at my college informed me that we had some complementary tickets to a virtual conference on new media in the academy. I was skeptical about the whole Second Life thing but thought it might be interesting.

The conference schedule is now available online at the website of the New Media Consortium, the host organization and owner of the sim in which the conference took place. The program now includes links to “videos” of the presentations in Second Life, which look a bit like small movies of someone playing a really boring video game. If you listen to the presentations, though, the presenters turn out to be real teachers and academic technologists talking about a range of new media tools, including familiar ones like blogs and Facebook but also a slew of new technologies, and how they can be applied in the classroom. I was most impressed by the ways in which the conference was interactive. It is hard to get a sense of this from the video, but when your avatar was actually sitting there in the amphitheater listening to the presentations (which were made by people wearing headsets and presumably sitting at their own computers in various offices around the world), you could participate in an open, text-only chat (some of the sessions listed on the program include chat transcripts) that ran concurrently with the presentation. I didn’t have a mic and headset, like many other participants, so if I wanted to ask a question I just typed it into the chat window and someone not in the middle of presenting might answer it immediately, or, alternatively, one of the presenters would eventually get around to answering it. This was a form of multitasking that I had not previously experienced but that, surprisingly, really worked. I’m sure those of you who play linked online video games have experienced this mixture of virtual action and global conversation. You’re watching the screen (which frequently included multimedia presentations in the strange box above the presenters’ heads), listening to the spoken presentation, and also participating in a text-only chat discussion all at the same time. And at certain moments it was very informative and interesting.

So, what are the applications for Japanese studies? Well, first of all, Second Life itself could in theory be a very interesting teaching tool if used judiciously. I did a bit of searching in between sessions and discovered that there are a number of Japan-related sites that are open to visitors, most of them designed by Japanese users. “Bakumatsu Kyoto,” for example, is an educational sim (meaning it does not allow violence or, ahem, mature content) that aims to recreate the imperial capital at the end of the Tokugawa period. It is sort of amazing to walk around the city, or fly above its buildings (did I mention avatars can fly?) and see the odd but compelling attempt to create a digital version of that historical place and moment. I also dropped in (actually I “teleported” but that’s a whole different story) to the city of Edo, but when I saw people sword-fighting I thought, no, maybe not, and returned to the conference. Another day perhaps. Quite a few educational institutions have sims in Second Life. The virtual campus of Princeton University, for example, is particularly impressive.

Other tools that I learned about for the first time through the conference included Voicethread and Cosketch, two websites that I could easily imagine using in a Japanese history class or, if I taught one, a language class. Voicethread allows you to create a slideshow into which viewers can embed written or spoken comments or add their own threads of information, allowing unusual and visually compelling forms of interactive information. Cosketch is like an online whiteboard that allows simultaneous discussion and visual collaboration which would be great for talking to someone in another country, planning an event, preparing for a conference, or learning about a set of images when people are not together in the same room.

The presentations ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, particularly the concluding session which compared  proprietary course management software such as Blackboard to the zombies that increasingly infect popular culture such as movies and video games. The presenters actually arranged for a small army of virtual zombies to attack the conference, which was pretty silly. They argued for the effectiveness of open-content new media tools like Word Press (which powers this blog) and open syndication services as a way of creating “revolutionary” (their word, not mine) ways of learning.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, and when I returned to the classroom on Wednesday and Friday after experiencing these sessions I still had to figure out how to explain 18th-century Japanese intellectual developments, walk students through preparations for a presentation, and help my advisees to register for classes. Connecting the tools and idealistic visions of the presentations with the daily realities of the academy will take an investment of time and energy which will probably be worth it in the long run . . . But I also worry that because these technologies change so quickly these particular tools may be outdated as soon as I manage to figure out how to use them.

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