井の中の蛙

5/14/2008

Archival Incidents, or What is it with Pictures?

Sean Malloy has withdrawn the pictures once touted as “newly discovered” photographs of Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing. Over the last few days, after the pictures were reported by HNN, the Huffington Post, and Wired, among others, members of the Japanese studies community took a closer look and began to doubt. I saw it unfold at H-Japan: questions about the clothing worn by the people standing in the photos, injuries that didn’t match the atomic bombing, topography issues. Most of all, there were similarities to other known pictures from the Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the anti-Korean/anti-leftist massacres which followed: the injuries, topography and clothing are more consistent with that disaster/atrocity. How the pictures acquired the Hiroshima story is still a mystery though, as one commenter pointed out, there’s a three day gap between the bombing and the first known pictures which we’d dearly love to fill.

By a curious coincidence, I (and a lot of other innocent scholars of Asia, I warrant) got an email from an ironically named Japanese group1 whose sole purpose is to deny the realities of Japanese WWII atrocities, and one of their highlight publications is an attempt to debunk as many Nanjing Massacre photographs as possible. Daqing Yang, one of the premier scholars on the Nanjing Massacre has written

Even photographic evidence, as many of them have come to realize, can be fraught with danger if its origins cannot be ascertained. When a conservative Japanese daily newspaper made a news story out of a wartime photograph used with the wrong caption in Kasahara’s book, he offered a swift public apology for his negligence and replaced the photograph.94 One of Kasahara’s historian colleagues has included a cautionary note about the use of photographic evidence in a college textbook on historical sources, using the Rape of Nanjing as an example.95

A few days back, peacay wrote me to get clarification on a satirical map found in the ‘Block Prints of the Chinese Revolution’ collection at Princeton. The problem with it, what was confusing peacay, is that the map seemed to be too broad and didn’t say much about the 1911 Revolution. The archival commentary wasn’t helpful, being a general statement about the whole collection. So, I got a good look at it and reported back that it was actually a Japanese-drawn (that much peacay already knew, which is why I got the call) WWI satire, dated late 1914, and the sum total of Chinese commentary was to depict China as a Mandarin pig, anxiously looking at a rain gauge. (peacay has a nice detail shot of it) The rest of the collection seems to actually be from Shanghai and relate to the 1911 revolution (at least, I assume Alan would have said something!). I don’t know that Princeton is going to withdraw the out-of-place image — they’ve already got a disclaimer on the collection saying that they don’t endorse any of the sentiments contained therein — but I expect that their in-house cataloging is more detailed and accurate. I hope so, but that’s no protection for researchers who aren’t in New Jersey.

This is going to come up more and more: as archives and collections become more public, the likelihood of discovering errors (or worse, propogating them in our research) is going to increase. As others have noted, I’m sure, historians are rarely trained specifically in the critical use of visual evidence, photographic or artistic. I’ve seen some grossly overinterpreted and casually thoughtless uses of visual materials.2 Nor are many archivists, though we rely heavily on their record-keeping and expertise. But it’s getting harder and harder to excuse this kind of carelessness, while our training is not at all keeping up with the materials we’re expected to use.

  1. I’ll tell you if you really want, but I don’t want to give them any more publicity than they deserve []
  2. I used a world history textbook once which both: a. presented a photograph of modern African folk dancers in a chapter on pre-1500 African history, the only instance in which a modern photo was used as evidence in a pre-modern context; b. and claimed that the solemn expressions on native Americans in a mid-19c picture were evidence of their social and cultural plight instead of the long exposures of contemporary technology []

4/21/2008

How do you say “Fast of the First Born” in Japanese?

I was thinking about whether to even attempt a contribution to the latest symposium on the role of historical animosities — and their appeasement — in present political tensions when a holiday happened: Passover, the Jewish celebration of the Exodus from Egypt. On the first evening, we celebrate the Seder — literally “order” — a process of remembrance and celebration. But there are elements of sadness: in the midst of telling the story, we spill wine from our cups in honor of the plague-suffering of the Egyptians. Before the Seder even begins, first-born Jews refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise, in remembrance of the first-born Egyptians slain in the final plague. It’s an odd practice, historically, nearly unprecedented: a deliberate rehumanization of “the enemy” enshrined at the heart of what is, arguably, the most centrally Jewish celebration of the ritual year.

I’m not entirely sure that it helps, since there never was an historical reconiciliation between the ancient Israelites and the Pharonic Egyptians.1 But I think it is an important “Zeroth” condition to add to Valérie Rosoux’s Four Conditions:
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  1. Then there’s the question of the historicity of the biblical narrative…. []

3/5/2008

Macroeconomics never gives you more than an overview

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:58 pm

Stephen Roach, Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia has an op-ed in the New York Times (UPDATE: reprinted in Japan Focus) arguing that Japan’s post-bubble recession and fifteen year stagnation may well be what the US economy is facing now. I think he’s right about some of the dangers, but I think he’s leaving out some critical components. Macroeconomics never gives you more than an overview, and I think the situation in the US is much worse.

Roach writes:
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10/30/2007

Disparity Studies

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:56 am

In my discussion of the job market I said “I only saw two Korea positions, which seems about par for previous years: at some point, though, Korea positions should catch up with Japan ones.” Morgan Pitelka took exception, noting (correctly) that

Other than UCLA, which continues to have one of the most productive Korean studies programs outside of Korea, and perhaps Harvard and Columbia, how many grad schools are cranking out Korean studies PhDs? I also know of only a handful of liberal arts colleges with any substantial Korean studies, and rarely language. Very few regional/MA-granting universities have substantial Korean studies. Almost all have some Japanese studies. Also, as far as I know, few colleges or universities DON’T have access to study abroad in Japan. On the other hand, most colleges and universities don’t have study abroad options in Korea.

He’s absolutely right, of course: Korean studies doesn’t have the infrastructure Japanese studies does in the US1 and that means that — like the painfully slow growth of MidEast studies and Islamic history after 9/11 — it will take real time and effort to build. But that’s a symptom, I think, not the root of the issue. As I said, “Korean history is no less interesting than Japanese history, and the US is no less involved in Korean affairs than it is in Japanese affairs.”

Another commenter, “Overthinker” offered a cultural explanation:

There seem to be three fundamental reasons why Japanese Studies is “bigger” than Korean. One is that WW2 was more significant that the Korean War, and has given us longer-lasting imagery; household words like Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima that everyone knows about, whereas to most people the Korean War is basically Klinger in a dress. Second is the dominance of Japanese products in the marketplace: while LG and Samsung etc are strong players, they have not yet achieved the dominance of Toyota, Sony, and Nintendo. Third is the generally “cooler” images of Japan. Think of Korea, and most Americans would be hard-pressed to think beyond the aforementioned M*A*S*H and perhaps Kim Il Jung singing “I’m so ronery”. Mention Japan and people think of samurai and geisha and ninja, plus robots and giant rubber monsters stomping Tokyo on a regular basis. All these three factors would seem to indicate a greater interest in Japan at the BA level, which translates to bigger graduate programs, and more PhDs in the area. To become bigger, Korea needs to become more popular – more people at the undergrad level need to be curious about the place.

This is closer, I think: I definitely agree that Japan’s lead in economic and cultural production is a part of the puzzle. The relationship between pop culture images and student demand is not always straightforward, but it is true that there is more Japanalia in American culture than Koreania2 and more interest in the cultural roots of its economic success3 because that success was so striking in the 80s.

But, as I’ve said before, “there’s no question that a historian can’t complicate by talking about what led up to it” and I think the key to this puzzle is earlier. Much earlier: I think it starts in 1853.

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  1. or anywhere in the West, I think, but I’m just going to go with what I know []
  2. No, I don’t know that “Koreania” is a word: would “Koreanalia” be closer? []
  3. I just had a discussion with my World History students about Musashi’s Book of Five Rings…. []

10/28/2007

The Job Market for Japanese Historians

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:50 am

This could be a very interesting year for the job market, not to mention for Asian history blogging. I know of three Asian history bloggers on the hunt for new jobs this year: none of them have started blogging about the experience, but I’d like to invite them — or any other blogger with an eye on the lists — to start, at least a little bit.1

It’s always been a bit of a curiousity to me that there isn’t more discussion on the blogs or listservs of the state of the market. Faculty with tenure don’t care, except perhaps about very particular opportunities. People already in tenure-track positions aren’t supposed to be watching the ads: makes the department nervous about their “committment.” People who are fresh on the market don’t want to … well, spook potential employers, mostly, though they might also be concerned about giving away too much about their own search decisions to competitors, as well. Me? Well, my blogging is already on my vita, so it’s not like I’m trying to hide it from potential employers.2 I’m a blogger: I talk about things that interest me.

Well, the majority of this year’s crop of jobs has been posted, and it’s time to take stock. I’ll start.

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  1. I’m not going to name the other ones here: it’s entirely up to them whether they want to take any aspect of this already grinding process public. []
  2. Like I could, at this point! Not. []

7/23/2007

The Rice Bowl and the Bomb

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:35 pm

Japan Focus and the NYTimes seem to be in sync at the moment, with a spate of pieces on resurgent nationalism and Japanese war memory.1 Say what you like about the NYTimes, but it gets good people to comment on things sometimes. MIT’s Richard J. Samuels is the featured scholar in this discussion of remilitarization and Hiroshima City University’s Yuki Tanaka is the premier talking head in this video documentary about the rearmament debates.2
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  1. If I keep this up, I’m going to have to start putting “War and Memory” on my c.v.: it seems like all anyone writes about nowadays with regard to Japan. []
  2. The video is pretty good, for 20 minutes, but a few things struck me as odd. The first segment seems rather cliched, both musically and visually. In the second segment a group of Waseda students is discussing rearmament, and the one who expresses the clearest pro-nuclear position has a distinctly un-Japanese name (I’m guessing resident Korean Japanese, but it’s impossible to tell for sure). And Mr. Taniguchi from the Foreign Ministry seems to be expressing a pretty clear and partisan opinion, more so than I would have expected from a bureaucrat. []

7/17/2007

Oh Tempura, Oh Mores!

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:06 am

The New York Times has been on a Japanese culture kick this week which I just couldn’t let pass without note. There have been not one, but two articles in praise of Sushi, and an appreciation for a Roots Kabuki troupe on tour in the US.
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6/19/2007

Vagaries of Honolulu

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:01 am
Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

One of the things I always look forward to when I go to Honlulu is visiting the Okonomiyaki restaurant in the International Marketplace — there just aren’t many places in the US where you can get it, and it’s one of my favorite Japanese foods — but this trip was so quick and conference-intensive that I didn’t really have time. So I thought that I’d missed my chance, but when I got to the Ala Moana mall food court I discovered that Honolulu has two Okonomiyaki places.
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5/2/2007

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 []

3/26/2007

Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a “dump”: all the Asia related stuff I’ve saved over the last…. two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I’d toss it out there. I hope to resume more … measured blogging soon.
[Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]
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