井の中の蛙

2/1/2012

History Carnival CVI (December 2011-January 2012)

Welcome to the 106th Roundup of History Blogging, a double-sized edition. Fortunately, being a blog, we never really run out of space.

First, the two biggest events of the annual calendar happen in January: The American Historical Association Meeting and the Cliopatria Awards. Both, fortunately, have nice, tidy round-up posts I can link to! The Cliopatria awards for 2011 included

There was a LOT of blogging and tweeting at this year’s AHA, much of it centered on the groundbreaking #THATCamp — the first held in conjunction with a national organizational conference — which brought a lot of heavyweight and beginning digital history folks together. There were even some interesting historical papers delivered, I’m told. Check out the collection: it covers just about everything I read on the conference, and then some. Next Year In New Orleans!

A public service announcement: Sharon Howard has updated the Early Modern Commons blog aggregator, http://commons.earlymodernweb.org/, and the general history aggregator, http://thebroadside.org/. If you’re not getting enough history in your media diet, this is the one-stop shop. OK, two stop shop.

For the remainder of the carnival, I’m mostly going to be posting titles and what I hope are intriguing quotations: nothing fancy, but there’s some really neat stuff here.
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11/9/2008

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.

2/5/2008

“Early Modern” Periodization

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 9:28 pm

I participated in a symposium on February 1st hosted by the USC-Huntington Early Modern Institute, on the topic of early modern periodization in East Asia. It was an exciting event with mostly big-name speakers (I was drafted in as a replacement!) including Kenneth Pomeranz, R. Bin Wong, John Wills Jr., Samuel Yamashita, John Duncan, and Jahyun Kim Haboush. The audience was substantial, prompting the organizers to move us to a much bigger conference room. I counted more than 60 people, implying a great deal of interest in the topic.

It seemed clear from the start that some presenters assumed that “early modern” referred to something real in the histories of Qing, Choson, and Tokugawa Japan, while others saw the term as at most a useful interpretive and comparative tool. The discussion devolved (predictably? unfortunately? amusingly?) into a debate about comparative history. Some participants suggested that using the period “early modern” compromises our ability to study East Asian histories on their own terms, forcing research and analysis into categories invented in certain parts of Western Europe. Others unpacked “early modern” in specific historical and cultural contexts. Still others argued that periodization schemes like “early modern” presented historians of East Asia with the opportunity to engage with historians of Euro-America, to highlight the scanty evidence marshaled in the narrative of the rise of Western modernity, and to move Asia to its rightful place in world history: the center. In my paper on the material heritage of Tokugawa Ieyasu, I made the argument that museums are where much popular education about the early modern takes place, essentially unacknowledged (and, unfortunately, unexamined) by historians of “early modern” East Asia.

In the final discussion of the day, as debate swirled back and forth on this issue, one fact became clear, perhaps winning the argument on the side of the “early modern” doubters better than any grand attempt at persuasion could have done: in the huge crowd of graduate students, scholars, and a few visitors from the general public, only one historian of Europe or America was present, and she was essentially required to be in attendance because of her role in founding and naming the USC-Huntington Early Modern Institute. The hackneyed phrase from the movie “Field of Dreams” comes to mind, except in reverse: even if you build it, they won’t come. In other words, even if a bunch of famous historians of East Asia hold a symposium on a term invented in European history to discuss its broad relevance; even if that event is hosted by an organization dominated by historians of Euro-America; and even if it is held at one of the biggest universities in southern California where lots of historians congregate; they (meaning historians of Euro-America, the group that the comparativists want to engage) won’t come. Of course I care about how badly East Asia is represented in the media, in public education, in much popular culture, and in the writing of many (not all, of course) prominent historians of Europe and America. But if the attendance at this symposium is any indication, adopting this comparative terminology, which often is not a particularly good fit for the diverse regions of the world, is not the answer.

10/7/2007

Controversy over the origins of the Japanese schoolgirl sailor uniform

Filed under: — Nick Kapur @ 10:39 pm

fukuoka-jogakuin-1921.jpgFor years private girls academy Fukuoka Jogakuin in Kyushu has been credited with first introducing in 1921 the famous sailor-style uniform worn by so many middle-school Japanese girls. However a recent investigation by a uniform manufacturer preparing an exhibit on the history of Japanese school uniforms has unearthed photographic evidence that Heian Jogakuin in Kyoto introduced a uniform with a sailor-style flap one year earlier, in 1920.

heian-jogakuin-1920.jpg The debate has heated up, with both schools insisting that they were the first and that the other schools claim is invalid. At a time when declining numbers of Japanese children are forcing private schools to become increasingly cuthroat in their competition for students, having an awesome uniform with a storied past is seen as a way to attract students.

While it seems incontrovertable that the Kyoto school had the sailor flap first, their uniform was an unsightly, shapeless one-piece, where as the Fukuoka school’s uniform is clearly a precursor to the style still in use today, so maybe both schools have a reasonable claim.

Source: セーラー服:発祥論争 平安女学院VS福岡女学院 (毎日新聞)

8/30/2007

Hawaiian Kanji

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:48 am

No, I’m not going to show you some cartoon of a spam musubi or a “remove your shoes” sign. This is, apparently, serious stuff: Educators working with the Hawaiian language revitalization and immersion movements have begun to use Kanji — and Japanese language generally — as a teaching tool for the Hawaiian language.

In spite of the fact that this press release came from my own institution, I actually know nothing about this. It’s wild stuff, but it has some very interesting pedagogical and cultural and linguistic foundations. There is a PDF from ‘Aha Pūnana Leo (‘APL) which has a great deal of detail and examples, including the one mentioned in the press release.

The core of the program is that both Hawaiian and Japanese are, phonetically speaking, syllabic languages, and that there are a lot of Japanese in Hawai’i, including relatives and ancestors of students in the Hawaiian program. The teachers who designed the program, aside from instilling respect, understanding and aloha in their students, wanted to use the ideographic characters to emphasize the syllabic nature of Hawaiian, as opposed to the alphabetic system of Roman letters. After assigning basic characters to each of the forty-five syllables of the Hawaiian language, they went on to teach the students more kanji by meaning, as well as conventional Japanese language instruction.1

I have to admit, it seems like a terribly roundabout way of handling the languages.

There’s an interesting historical side note to this, though. As I wrote in my dissertation2:

Hawaiian King Kalakaua visited Japan in 1881 and made three proposals which, although they were rejected, endeared the Hawaiian monarch to the Japanese authorities. The offer to revise their treaty to eliminate extra-territoriality was rejected so as not to interfere with similar negotiations with the Great Powers. An impulsive offer by King Kalakaua for a marriage alliance between his niece and an Imperial Prince (ages six and fifteen years, respectively) was turned down after a show of due consideration. Finally, a “Union and Federation of Asian Nations and Sovereigns” which would have given Japan a platform to demonstrate leadership and build prestige in the Pacific was rejected as endangering the generally good relationship between Japan and the United States, which had particularly strong interests in Hawai’i.

Hawai’i and Japan might have had a much closer relationship, and there might have been even more Japanese influence on the islands than there already is. There is also considerably more influence the other way than most people realize. There is an extensive Hula halau (school/team) network in Japan, whose members regularly visit Hawai’i to study with local teachers and immerse themselves in the culture.3 The Japanese government has even promoted the Hawaiian shirt (in its Okinawan form, officially) as a cool answer to the problem of work attire, and there are still lots and lots of Japanese who come to Hawai’i for honeymoons and vacations who could do some good for the economy and ecology of both countries by stocking up.

Sheer geography and the history of Japanese migration to Hawai’i has created an interesting — and definitely under-studied — relationship. One that could be shaped anew by a really creative reimagining of language pedagogy. Or it could be a complete dead end.

  1. as the press release points out, one of the criticisms of the Hawaiian immersion program is that it seems somewhat limited, in terms of economic potential after graduation. Japanese, of course, is the road to riches. At least that’s what it says in the big print. []
  2. p. 20. The citation is to Hilary Conroy’s The Japanese Frontier in Hawai’i, pp. 50-52 []
  3. one of the best Hula dancers and Hawaiian singers I’ve seen recently was a Japanese woman who teaches Hula in Japan []

7/1/2007

Japanese War Memories at ASPAC

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:24 am

I’m not going to go though quite the same song-and-dance I did with Japanese Diaspora or South Asian studies because these issues are much more familiar to the readership here. But I did see two presentations that I wanted to share: Noriko Kawamura’s on the new sources and debates about the end of the war and just-graduated college senior Megan Jones’ fantastic project about Japan’s WWII museum/memorials.

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12/3/2006

The Trials and Tribulations of Teaching

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 6:14 pm

A friend who teaches American and sometimes Asian history courses sent me the following enquiry, which she received via email from one of her American history students. I am happy to say that I have never received a student message this inane or inarticulate, though the fundamental confusion about the geography of the world and the chronology of our recent past is somewhat familiar.

Now, I have a question pertaining to the history of World War 2. I was wondering why we dropped the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. because we didnt do it until 1945 and Pearl Harbor was in 1941. Also, we had already gotten back at them on April 18, 1942 in Tokyo right? First it was Hiroshima on August 6th and then three days later we dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945, correect? My other question is if Japan is a seperate country from North Korea and I know its seperate from China, but do they speak Chinese. Last night I was watching Pearl Harbor and in it they said to remember these words, I can’t say them, but they were in Chinese. I thought it was the Japanese we were mad at in Tokyo. I am a little confused about this please help.Thanks, XXXXXXXXXX

Of course the general ignorance of this message is frustrating, but what really bothers me is the lack of formality. I have talked with colleagues about this, and many disagree. Email is the students’ natural medium, they say, and they are not used to writing in the style of a letter as I would prefer: “Dear Professor So-and-So.” Still, it rankles me when I get emails from students that begin, “Hey, I was wondering . . .” Related to the lack of formality is the absence of care regarding spelling and grammatical errors. We all send emails (or publish blog entries) without spell-checking, but the above message is just egregious.

Correect?

Thanksgiving Vacation and Homework

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:17 am

JapaneseDollCrowned

Over Thanksgiving weekend, my family and I went over to the Waikoloa Hilton. My son loves the boats and trams, and there’s nothing like watching dolphins play. The pools are great and the food, though pricey, is good.

But the fun part, for me, is their immense collection of Asian and Pacific art. Most of it is arranged along a mile-long “Museum Walkway,” and one evening after my son was asleep, I went out and walked the mile with my digital camera. Conditions were not ideal: a lot of the collection is under glass, and the hallway is narrow enough that larger pieces were sometimes hard to fit in the viewfield; as a result there’s a lot more pictures at an angle than I’d like. I went back the next day to see if I could get better non-flash shots, but the oddities of light and shadow on glass actually made it harder to get most things. Short of convincing the hotel to let me shoot a catalog for them, this is the best I’m gonna get.

I was pondering how best to archive and share these pictures, and I finally decided to set up a Flickr account (I had to upgrade, since I’ve got about a gigabyte’s worth of material and that would take about 50 months to upload on the free account). I haven’t gone through the whole collection yet, but you can see a nice sample of about a dozen pictures here. The collection ranges from South Pacific to Asia, with a bunch of Western stuff thrown in for good measure; eventually my goal is to have the whole collection uploaded and sorted into sets. If anyone sees something here that they want more of, let me know and I can start there….

Also, in the category of sharing great collections of images, if you aren’t on H-Asia you might not have seen this: “The Section of Japanese Studies of the Department of East Asian Studies of the University of Vienna is pleased to announce the opening of the internet database: UKIYO’E CARICATURES 1842-1905” There’s a lot more than just caricatures, and the images aren’t very heavily annotated (though they did transcribe the texts, which is a nice touch), but it’s worth noting.

Update: I’ve been rooting around Flickr — well, OK, I just plugged “Japan” into their group search box — and came up with a whole bunch of Japan-related collections: Japanese Archaeology, Japanese 20th Century, Buddhism in Japan, the very mixed Japan-Hawai’i Connection, and the deliberately mixed Japan: Old and New. Timesink!

5/27/2006

Shades of Mori Arinori

Filed under: — Nick Kapur @ 2:03 am

Recently the Japanese Diet has been debating several competing bills to revise the Fundamental Education Law of 1947.  One of the most contested issues is an effort by the LDP to make instilling patriotism an explicit goal of Japan’s national education system, as it was under the education system devised by Mori Arinori in the 19th century and in force in Japan up until the US-led education reforms following World War II.  Reportedly, the original language was even stronger, but the LDP-backed bill that finally made it out of committee and onto the Diet floor still contained the relatively strong phrasing by Japanese standards, 我が国と郷土を愛する態度を養う (“to instill an feeling of loving our country and homeland”). Critics of this clause argue that it will promote militarism and inject further tension into already heated Japan-China and Japan-Korea relations, but the LDP-backed bill seems likely to pass largely as is within the next week or so.

In related news, it was reported this week that many Japanese schools are grading students on “love of country”.  A recent survey in Saitama prefecture found that at least 45 local schools evaluated “love of country” on report cards for 6th-grade students. Under current policy, individual schools are free to decide how report cards are structured and which categories are graded. Officials have argued that the practice is not objectionable because “instilling a feeling of love for one’s country” has already been one of the Ministry of Education’s stated objectives for 6th-grade social studies students for some time.

7/6/2005

Dewey In Japan

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:40 pm

Naoko Saito takes John Dewey’s visits to Japan as a starting place for questions about “Education for Global Understanding” [registration required; I do like the way TCR seems to be branching more towards Higher Ed and international education lately, but it might just be a summer blip] and finds challenging material.

In his visit to Japan, from February 9 until April 28, 1919, Dewey was confronted with a severe challenge to his hope of attaining mutual understanding and universal democracy beyond national and cultural boundaries. Japan at that time was between two world wars and had undergone a democratization movement called Taisho Democracy – a movement that was soon to give way to looming nationalism and militarism. Dewey saw a flickering hope for liberalism in Japan, but he left the country in disappointment. He tried to approach Japan through his principle of mutual national understanding. During the short period of his stay, he struggled to penetrate below the surface of the culture. As a philosopher who was thrown into an abyss that existed between two cultures, Dewey acknowledged that “Japan is a unique country, one whose aims and methods are baffling to any foreigner.” He communicated with Japanese liberal intellectuals, gave a lecture at the University of Tokyo, and was exposed to the left-wing democratic movements among college youth. But he learned that “such higher criticism is confined to the confidence of the classroom” (JL, p. 174). Dewey realized that the “popular mind,” to which he wished to communicate his idea of democracy as a personal way of living, was dominated by “nationalistic sentiment.” He observed that “the growth of democratic ideas” and “the growth of liberalism” were hampered by the inculcation of “the emperor cult” (LJ, pp. 170–173). Especially in contrast to China, where “[e]very articulate conscious influence [was] liberal,” Dewey noticed the obstacles to “the development of an enlightened liberal public opinion in Japan” – “the conspiracy of silence,” patriotism, and the institutional religion that prevented “critical thought and free discussion.” Dewey was troubled by the authoritarian, nationalistic ethics indoctrinated in primary education (LJ, pp. 167–168). He could not find democracy in Japanese people’s way of living.

Furthermore, Dewey was confused by an inconsistency involved in Japanese modernization – a combination of the “feudal” and “barbarian” ethos of the warrior with the worship of western industrialization (LJ, pp. 160–161). As he put it, “There is some quality in the Japanese inscrutable to a foreigner which makes them at once the most rigid and the most pliable people on earth, the most self-satisfied and the most eager to learn” (LJ, p. 168). In the country’s “opportunism,” Dewey found it “difficult in the present condition of Japan to construct even in imagination a coherent and unswerving working policy for a truly liberal political party” (POJ, p. 259).

This experience of Dewey leaves us with a philosophical question: what happens if one’s democratic faith is not totally accepted in a different culture? [footnotes removed]

Actually, that last sentence should be, based on her description of Dewey’s responses, “what happens if one’s democratic faith is entirely rejected in a different culture?” A bit later, Saito notes that “In the series of lectures that Dewey gave at the University of Tokyo, the number of participants decreased from around a thousand to less than forty towards the end.” And, of course, there’s little evidence of Dewey’s influence in Japan’s educational or political systems to date. Clearly his visit failed to transform Japan, unrealistic as that standard of judgement might be. Clearly Japan as a society is not fully accepting of differences and others (are any societies?) and has a civil discourse which is more limited than many of us would consider ideal, or even healthy.

I’m mostly struck by the tension between the idea of Taisho Democracy, which was indeed in full swing when Dewey dropped in, and what Dewey observed as rigidity, obscurantism, chauvinism and authoritarianism. Given what we know of the course of history, Dewey’s observations ring true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he didn’t miss something important. The 1920s were a heyday of internationalism in Japan, not just in the sense of the Shidehara Diplomacy but also in terms of translated literature and scholarship, travel overseas, international visitors to Japan, and the penetration of commodity culture carrying both domestic and international products and modes. Dewey should have seen some of that potential; instead he (and his followers in the present) deny that the eclectic and dynamic 1920s were more than epiphenomal. There’s a consistency to this narrative that I find troubling, possible evidence of a cultural determinism which is untenable, historically.

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