井の中の蛙

3/22/2010

AAS Love – Self Promotion Edition

It’s a good week for me and the Association for Asian Studies. I just got my Journal of Asian Studies in the mail. Not only did I get the journal, but the cover image is my photograph of firefighters at the 1985 Atsuta Festival. There’s an article that goes with it, Mary Alice Haddad on the democratization of volunteer fire departments, which is quite interesting1, including the fact that there are almost 900 thousand volunteer firefighters in Japan, which makes it one of the larger civic traditions.

In addition, the very first review in the Japan section is Jeffrey Lesser’s review of Japanese Diasporas: Unsung Pasts, Conflicting Presents and Uncertain Futures, Edited by Nobuko Adachi, in which I have a chapter. He doesn’t mention my chapter in the review2, but he does praise the book generally, and the review includes discussion of another work — Toake Endoh, Exporting Japan — which apparently addresses a familiar argument about the relationship between colonial and migration policy in useful detail.

To make it a perfect week, I’d have to be going to the AAS Meeting in Philadelphia. Well, I am! I’ll be presenting a paper on Friday afternoon joined by some very interesting folks:

Session 106: National Borders and Memory Borders: The Prewar Japanese Diaspora and Postwar Memories of the “Homeland”
Hometown pride and “safe” international history in rural western Japan, Martin Dusinberre
Diaspora Memory: Selective Histories of Japanese Emigration, Jonathan Dresner
Lost Homeland: Colonial Memories of Manchuria in Okinawa after World War II, Shinzo Araragi
Beyond Conflicted Memories of the “Second Hometown”: a homecoming tour of Japanese repatriates to the Philippines , Mariko Iijima

Many thanks to Martin, in particular, for organizing the panel.

Naturally, I’ll be blogging and tweeting the conference, as much as I can.

Now, who else will be there, and when can we have a blogger meetup?

  1. I didn’t know that when I gave permission to use the picture, of course, but I figured Wasserstrom, et al., knew what they were doing []
  2. none of the reviews I’ve seen have, actually. It’s not entirely surprising, since my chapter is a little odd-man-out, looking at diaspora from the perspective of the Japanese government’s anxieties about the cultural illiteracy of emigrants, instead of from a particular diaspora community. []

3/19/2010

Some Good Old Treaty Port Humor

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:09 pm

I found this gem in a June 21, 1900 Washington Post article:

southampton.jpg

It is a cute, and surely manufactured story, but it does get at something I have wondered about: did Asian powers who were granting special rights in their ports to Europeans ever seek any similar special trade access to certain ports in Europe?

3/18/2010

Modern Digital Library vs Google Books

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:06 pm

When the Japanese National Diet Library started putting Meiji period and Taishō period books online and fully viewable in their Modern Digital Library (近代デジタルライブラリー) I remember thinking, “Wow, this is amazing! If only there could be access to books in other languages on this scale!”

That collection now has over 150,000 books scanned and included in their database. You don’t need any special plug-ins and the page images are JPEGs. Great job!

This past week I have been doing some heavy lifting research without any library access and Google Books has once again showed itself to be a real friend. I have been able to look up things so fast, with such precision, and check even small obscure details with such ease from a kitchen in Sackets Harbor New York that I’m incredibly tempted to abandon my study of the 1930-40s and never again touch a subject which goes past 1920: why? Because there is a good chance that if you search for something Google Books has before 1920, it will be in full view and you can read, search, and download to your heart’s delight. There are exceptions, which I have complained about on numerous occasions, but still, each time I sit down and really do some heavy searching with Google Books I find an ever increasing availability of even quite obscure works in their database scanned from some of the best libraries around. The limited preview is also incredibly useful as I increasingly look things up with a quick search on Google Books instead of picking up that same book on my table half a meter away. When one knows certain tricks, the limited preview is not even that limited when you really need to read a few pages denied to you.

The internet is now filled with debates about what the Google Books settlement will mean for publishers, writers, and researchers, as well as casual readers on the internet. I don’t want to fight that fight here, but I will point out one obvious fact:

The 近代デジタルライブラリー now looks like something out of the stone age compared to the interface provided in full view on Google Books. It is downright painful to go back. It is like going from the web back to the world of gopher on a dial-up connection. It is slow to load each page and single page display. It isn’t just that Google has the money to put a lot of effort into its presentation. To be sure, it isn’t trivial to create a web based reading experience which allows you seamless scrolling while pages load in the background, and the host of other little features they have included.

However, they decided early on that if they will give you full view, they are going to give you full view: allowing PDF and ePub downloads (albeit watermarked and not searchable offline).

A lot of databases like 近代デジタルライブラリー or the アジア歴史資料センター have a completely different philosophy, even for works that have long been in the public domain: sure we will give you a whole page but only zoomed out. If you zoom in we’ll give you a little piece of it in JPEG form. Multi-page download? In the latter case, no way, in the former case, they can create a special PDF for you, with a limited number of combined images:

1度に最大10コマまで指定できます

※ご注意
・コマ番号とは、撮影された各画像に振られた番号です。
・PDFファイルが作成されるまでに時間がかかる場合があります。
・1コマのファイルサイズは、およそ300KBです。

I see how this is designed to restrict the bandwidth usage on an already slow (at least in the US) website, but this tells me that there needs to be a greater pooling of efforts – either with help from powerful private sector companies such as Google (with care to avoid some of the problems this produces, and even worse horrors of such disasters as Footnote.com) or by pooling resources between governments, or in cooperative agreements between governments and the private sector.

Side note: Google Books has a small number of old Japanese books scanned from US libraries. It has Chinese books too but many of these were affected by complaints from Chinese authors and now have little or no access. Unfortunately many of these books are backwards: page numbers don’t work properly and the pages are shown in reverse in many (but not all) old books I have looked at in the past few days. Google: if you unbind Japanese books and present them in a vertical scrolling interface, you will have reverse the order of the pages!

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