December 7, 1941, Pittsburg, Kansas

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:50 am

One of our graduate assistants came in recently with an old newspaper that her husband had found on a deconstruction job. Considering that it was, apparently, stored in a wall for decades, the December 7, 1941 Pittsburg Sun was in fairly good condition: brittle, but almost entirely intact and clear. I didn’t want to force the folds into a flatbed scanner – the paper clearly isn’t going to survive too much handling, and the next step is to show it to our archivist – so I took some pictures with my camera to share.

Interestingly, we got an email today indicating that the Governor has declared today a half-staff day, in honor of the anniversary, so consider this our contribution to the remembrance.
Pittsburg Sun 1941 December 7 Evening - Detail 1 - Front Page Headlines Army Arrives Pittsburg


Announcements and Remembrances

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:11 am

While the discussions on the Asia lists have been a bit wooden for a while, other H-Net communities are lively and thriving, and the book reviews are a fantastic resource. Moreover, I know some of the current leadership of H-Net, and I have great confidence that they’ll take it in interesting directions with new technology and new paradigms. That said, though the leadership, editors, reviewers and participants are all volunteers, they still need money for technical support, infrastructure and other expenses, and we can’t rely on state institutions of higher learning for this sort of thing. Donate!

The 2010 Cliopatria Awards for History Blogging nominations are open through November, so there’s still two weeks to riffle through your archives and pick your best work, and your friends’ best work, and the best stuff off your RSS reader. The categories are, as in the past, Best Individual Blog, Best New Blog, Best Group Blog (which we won back in ’05), Best Series of Posts, Best Single Post, and Best Writer (which Alan Baumler won in ’06). I’m judging Best New and Group Blog, so we can’t win that again this year; otherwise, the field for Asianists is wide open! Nominate!

The 2011 ASPAC Conference will be a joint event with the WCAAS Conference, to be held at Pomona College, June 17-19, 2011. In a remarkable feat of organization, the Conference website is already live and accepting paper proposals, though the deadline isn’t until mid-March. The theme is “Asia Rising and the Rise of Asian America” but proposals on all topics in Asian studies are welcome. Submit! (and let me know if you’ll be there; we’ve never had a blogger meet-up at ASPAC before!)

Finally, a sad note: Harold Bolitho, one of my advisors and mentors at Harvard, has passed away. I had heard, through another of my advisors, that he’d retired due to health issues – a bit hard to believe for those of us who sometimes confuse volume with vigor. He was a substantial scholar, who didn’t write a lot by some standards, but who always had something interesting to say, and a depth of understanding that I will always envy.1 One of the graduate papers I was proudest of, in some ways, was one that I wrote for him, on the Nagasaki visits of Rai San’yo and Shiba Kokan; I was a little surprised to discover a year later that he’d published an article on a similar theme.2 I was pleased, because clearly I had picked a topic that really did have merit – a matter of immense anxiety for a first-year grad student – but I was also somewhat taken aback at how much more depth and substance Bolitho brought to a subject I felt, in my absurd youth, that I had covered pretty well. I’m very sorry to hear that he’s passed on, because he was a great teacher for a young, nerdy, not-yet-historian.

  1. I didn’t realize until now that he’d written a survey text on Meiji Japan, something that I’ve always felt was lacking in the English language literature. It’s a short text, though, and now rather old. []
  2. H. Bolitho , Travelers’ Tales: Three Eighteenth-Century Travel Journals. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 50 (1990), pp. 485–504 []


The Lead Poisoning Thesis

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:17 pm

Some research is startling, and some research confirms what we already guessed or assumed, but there’s some research which falls between these categories: research which reveals things that should have been obvious, if we’d been thinking about it clearly, or asked the right questions earlier. Siniawer’s argument about the consistency of violence in Imperial Japanese politics falls into that category, as does the new transnational migration scholarship that sees migration as a multi-directional, multi-generational process. I’m sure you have other examples

In the same vein, there’s new archaelogical research from Kitakyushu, announced on LiveScience with the headline “Lead Poisoning in Samurai Kids Linked to Mom’s Makeup.” A study of 70 sets of samurai class remains included several of children:


Young Samurai: The Way of the Sword: Ancient Culture, Modern Politics

Reading The Way of the Sword while listening to the “Restoring Honor” event, I began to wonder if our current shift to discourses of honor and warriors is a side effect of the ubiquity of martial arts in the US over the last 35 years. The values of martial arts, even the most modern ones, include personal and collective honor in ways that were, for a long time, rather absent in most American rhetoric. Sarah Palin said “If you look for the virtues that have sustained our country, you will find them in those who wear the uniform, who take the oath, who pay the price for our freedom.” That’s as good a paraphrase of the Imperial Rescript for Soldiers and Sailors as I’ve ever heard from an American politician.

The cultural and historical problems which made Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior such a weak hash of Harry Potter plotting and dojo delusions persist in the second book of the trilogy. Like the first volume, it’s a quick read, probably most suitable for middle school/junior high readers, though older readers with an interest in the martial arts won’t find it childish. Historians of Japan, however, will find this gaijin-boy-in-early-Edo tale a test of character not unlike the one the protagonist faces: to get through it, you must ignore exhaustion, overcome moments of sharp pain, focus on the goal, and achieve a state of no-mind…. [spoilers ahead, of course, though the fact that it's the middle part of a trilogy probably tells you most of what you need to know.]


Judge Ooka’s Sidekick, part two: The Ghost In the Tokaido Inn and In Darkness, Death

After reading the last two installments in the Hooblers’ samurai detective series, I got hold of the first two. There are still two I have not read, obviously, but based on these four, I can’t seriously recommend the series: the misinformation and errors just outweigh any value that they have as presentations of Edo life or culture.1 The authors’ notes can’t save these books, because even good information is twisted into such blazingly implausible scenarios that no real understanding could survive, and there’s no end to the errors. [Spoilers, of course, because I don't really want anyone to read these books!]

  1. I still maintain that the last book, A Samurai Never Fears Death is decent, but it’s clearly the exception. []


Blogging and Events

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:26 pm

I am in Portland, at ASPAC 2010, and having my usual conference fun. It’s a pretty full schedule, so I’m not going to try to blog during, but I’ll get some blogging in after, and mostly here because I’m mostly doing Japan panels this year. However, I am experimenting with using laptop and iPad as notetaking devices1 — I’ve always used paper before — and PSU has good wireless service, so I’m also posting notes on twitter as time and attention allow. If you’re on twitter and have a question about anything I’ve tweeted, feel free to contact me that way.

Also, I’ll be hosting the July History Carnival at my World History teaching blog (have to give it something to do over the summer!), so send me history-related posts via comment here, via email (jonathan@froginawell.net), through the History Carnival submission page, or via twitter (through @jondresner or using the #hc89 tag).

  1. I haven’t decided which one I like better. I’m more used to the laptop, of course, but the iPad has a huge advantage in portability and battery life. The fact that it’s slightly harder to use, both in terms of typing and multitasking, seems to make the iPad a bit better for concentrating on what’s happening, oddly enough. I’m going to keep switching between them as the conference goes on, to see if I come to any firmer conclusions, and also to get more practice on the iPad, which is a new tool/toy. []


TR’s legacy for FDR: Japanese Aggression?

I really didn’t want to get into the discussion about James Bradley’s op-ed and interview because it’s finals season, and because the argument was so obviously wrong. Other historians have weighed in with a fairly negative review of the argument,1 but there’s a book behind it, so I suppose the discussion has to happen. Eric Rauchway did a reasonably good job of taking the Americanist side against Bradley; I’ve been in the comments over there, arguing, effectively, that there’s a bizarre amount of reality you have to ignore to make the connection between the Portsmouth Treat and Taft-Katsura on the one hand and the Manchurian Incident and Pearl Harbor on the other.

The presumption that Roosevelt doing something more aggressive with regard to Japan’s claims in Korea and elsewhere wouldn’t have produced the Pacific War sooner seems unlikely to me. The combination of US expansion in the Pacific (Hawaii as well as the Philippines) and anti-Japanese/anti-immigrant racism was already leading some Japanese to consider the US a likely competitor and enemy in the near future: an intransigent or pro-Russian Roosevelt would have failed to negotiate the Portsmouth treaty (against which the Japanese people rioted anyway, because there was no indemnity payment) and the US would likely have been unable to integrate Japan into the Wilsonian treaties of the ’20s, and the military would have been even more likely to move aggressively in China and the Pacific sooner than 1931.

From both sides, the US and Japanese, it’s hard to see what Roosevelt could have done differently, even assuming that he had the ahistorical inclination to do so that would have produced a better result.

There’s a satirical theme in Edge of the American West comments which routinely blames people for things that happened many, many years after or before their time. As absurd as it is, I had to point out that some people take it way too seriously. I also noted something which I’m going to have to be sure to emphasize next time I teach this, because I think it’ll clarify things for students:

Nobody intervened on the side of the Chinese, ever. Even the “Open Door policy” was pretty much a dead letter from the beginning. That’s why the Japanese thought they could get away with so much: the 21 Demands make it very clear the direction things are going to go, unless the Chinese can get their acts together quickly (which they didn’t). This is part of what made FDR’s intervention on their behalf so infuriating: it was out of character with the 19th century paradigm, and nobody had ever made a League of Nations decision the foundation of a diplomatic relationship (there was an attempt with the Italy/Ethiopia thing, but it didn’t stick).

I don’t know why people never get tired of “original sin” counterfactual arguments, but they sure don’t.

  1. There’s even a comment from D. Giangreco that I agree with, a rare event. []


Ueda Akinari translation

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:09 am

PMJS has published William Clarke and Wendy Cobcroft’s annotated translation of Ueda Akinari’s Tandai Shoshinroku, available as a free PDF and also as a book-on-demand from Lulu (and eventually Amazon). I leave the commentary on the value of scholarly networks, non-profit online publishing, and the finally-growing body Early Modern translations as an exercise for our readers, who don’t need me to tell them what they already know.


Hiroshima +50 (and +40)

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:39 pm

Atomic Bombing 50th Anniversary - Cranes 8 - closeI haven’t participated in that many “historic” events, but I’m now old enough that my early pictures qualify as historic documents, at least. Here’s another sample of my Japan pictures: maybe not an historic event in itself, but a major anniversary commemoration of one.

I spent both the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Hiroshima bombing in Japan. (Also the 39th, but who cares?) We didn’t do anything to mark the 40th — we were too busy getting ready to come back to the US, where I was going to start college — but I do remember getting a haircut that day. A haircut isn’t really memorable most of the time, but our barber, just down the street from our ‘mansion,’ also gave old-fashioned shaves. Now I didn’t have much historical consciousness as a 17-year old, but a decade anniversary of an event like the world’s first atomic bombing, in the country where it happened, is something that you notice. So there I was, laying back in the chair on the anniversary of the day my country atom-bombed my barber’s country, and he’s standing over me with a straight-razor. I don’t miss shaving, but there’s nothing like a good straight-razor shave.

On the 50th anniversary, we were living in Yamaguchi, so we decided to take the train to Hiroshima for the commemoration. We’d been to Hiroshima before, with visiting relatives, so we’d seen the museums and the park. But it was different that day:


Hirohito’s last birthday

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:14 pm

Tenno 1988 - Emperor Wave enhancedI’m almost done, I suppose, with the first phase of my image digitization and pedagogy project, namely scanning a significant chunk of my Japan slides and prints. I’ve completely gone through the slides I had pulled for classroom use when I started teaching, supplemented with some from my complete collection; I still have dozens of boxes of slides to go through from my first year in Japan (1984-85), and I’m sure there are some surprises.1 I’ve gone through most of my prints as well — pictures from my junior year at Keio International Center (1987-88) and my graduate research year in Yamaguchi (1994-1995) — and extracted most of the interesting stuff, and I’m mostly done scanning them. I’m taking a bit of a break from my collection once that’s done, and focusing on scanning the book images which I’ve been using in class — I had a huge collection of slides made by the photography department in my first year or two of teaching — but I probably can’t upload those en masse, for copyright reasons.2

Most of my pictures, to be honest, are pretty typical tourist pictures — with the caveat that we very, very rarely posed for “we are here” shots — but my father taught me that it’s a lot cheaper to take lots of pictures than to go back, so I did get quite a few decent architectural shots, and some good cultural ones. Fairly static stuff, but much of it will be useful in my Japanese history courses; I’ve set a fairly broad Creative Commons license on the pictures, so that they can be used by other teachers.3 There are a few times, though, when I captured something which legitimately might be considered a unique historical moment.

During Golden Week of my year at Keio, a few friends and I decided to go to the Emperor’s Birthday Audience, when crowds can enter the Imperial Palace grounds and get to see an appearance of the monarch, plus family:

  1. For example, when I looked through my Atsuta Matsuri pictures, I discovered that I’d taken a bunch of pictures of the Aichi Prefecture Police Band and Bugle Corps. I’m not surprised that the police have a band — many military and paramilitary organizations need marching music — but the cheerleader-like Bugle Corps women seem, well, cheerleader-like. []
  2. Unless someone wants to argue that the enhancements I’m doing in Photoshop — contrast, lightness, etc — transform the image sufficiently that it’s a new creation to which I am the rightful copyright holder….. No? I didn’t think so. That said, once I’ve amassed a solid collection, I’d be happy to share them via CD-ROM with anyone who’s got a legitimate teaching need. That’s legal. []
  3. I’ve already shared my Atsuta Shrine pictures, and some cultural illustrations. And my Early Japan class is about to hit Kamakura. []

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