井の中の蛙

5/5/2012

Moving Migration Into History

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:39 pm

Via Aaron Bady, I saw a wonderful article by Imke Sturm-Martin about the challenges of integrating migration history into the mainstream of European historical consciousness.1 Europe is not the only place where migration history has complicated traditional narratives, and where migration history has contemporary political implications, but it is a bit ahead of the curve, thanks to the usual patterns of economic and social change, compounded regional integration. I don’t have time to give this the full treatment it deserves, but Sturm-Martin’s most interesting point is that the full integration of history into master national narratives is very much hindered by those national narratives.

Which migration should become part of a European narrative? The question is not an easy one – the only uncontroversial instances are migrations that lie so far back in time that all can agree on their consequences for European history. It is much harder to agree about migration in recent history and the present, and even individual national historiographies have trouble with such cases. Whenever and wherever the consequences of migration are felt in the present, questions arise of minority rights, group rights, inequality and discrimination, and demand that any “official” history be politically correct.

Like any other public presentation of history, the House of European History in Brussels, due to open in 2014, will be unable to avoid taking a political stance on such questions. … Visitors are to be told about the great migrations of antiquity, about migration from the countryside to the cities during the industrial revolution, and about the refugees and displaced or expelled persons who migrated after both World Wars. This list does not mention the “international” aspects of seasonal migration in Early Modern Europe, a well-researched topic by now; nor does it mention the vast scale of emigration to the Americas from various European countries, or the substantial migration from outside Europe at the end of the colonial era. Even the workforce recruitment campaigns in the southern countries during Europe’s boom years in the 1950s and 1960s is omitted. Such large-scale historical processes have fallen victim to the necessary selection process, but they might perhaps be part of the section “Questions for Europe’s Future”, which aims to throw up questions for visitors to ponder. One of these is, “How can the EU react to the demographic change affecting all its member states? Is encouraging immigration an effective response?”

There is a very powerful trend to turn history into a balance sheet of justice, which migration history often runs right into. But it’s also possible that migration history may make that kind of accounting impossible, done properly.

  1. Sturm-Martin, Imke. Translation by Samuel Willcocks. “Migration: Europe’s absent history,” Eurozine 30 April 2012. http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2012-04-30-sturmmartin-en.html []

3/23/2012

Credentialism and Other Modern Traditions

The Japan Times article on Japan’s application to UNESCO to have 和食 [washoku, Japanese cuisine] declared an internationally recognized “intangible cultural asset” is a fantastic display of modern cultural discourses. The combination of bad food history, the distortions of modernism, and abject credentialism is really quite disturbing.
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8/1/2011

Feeling Like an Empire: Colonial Radicalization

What makes Louise Young’s Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism such a fascinating, troubling work is that she details the way in which the Manchurian experience, and the strategic vulnerability of the Manchurian adventure, rebound into the politics and culture of Japan itself. It reverses, in a way, the traditional narratives of colonialism which see influence flowing from the metropole to the periphery rather than the other way around. And as consciousness of Manchuria became increasingly central to Japanese political and cultural identity, Japanese politics became increasingly radical: nationalist, racialist, expansionist, militarist; in a word, imperialist. Not that Japan wasn’t an empire before that — Taiwan, Korea, Liaodong, and a large swath of the South Pacific attest to Japan’s willingness to take control of other peoples — or that the cultural elements weren’t in place. But under the influence of the ongoing crisis in Manchuria, a crisis experienced by many who travelled there, worked there, and seen and heard through music, movies and other outlets, liberal alternatives like internationalism became unpalatable, even unacceptable. If you’re tied to the usual nation-bound histories of culture and politics, and the one-way influence of the standard metropole-periphery model, this is a paradigm-shifting piece of scholarship. As Albert Szent-Gyorgyi said, “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.”

I thought of Young’s work when I read this NYT profile of David Yerushalmi, one of the architects and driving forces behind the anti-Shariah movement in the United States. Yerushalmi’s radically political and hostile view of Islam have become common-place opinions in certain segments of the US political spectrum — primarily Republican, Tea Party, Buchananite Isolationist, Dominionist and similar groups — and have been put into legislative form in Oklahoma, as well as as other states. Especially in the context of US involvement in the Middle East, the specific focus of the xenophobia against the very kinds of people who are the target of US policy, the anxiety about subversion by global networks of muslims based on the statements and actions of a radicalized few, really does remind me of the Japanese turn in the 1920s and 1930s against communism, socialism and anarchism, against the Korean and Chinese activists, and their Japanese allies, who were the strongest proponents of those theories.

What really fascinated me about the profile, though, was Yerushalmi’s background. Or rather, a combination of his background and the way in which the article glided over the interesting bits.

His interest in Islamic law began with the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, when he was living in Ma’ale Adumim, a large Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

At the time, Mr. Yerushalmi, a native of South Florida, divided his energies between a commercial litigation practice in the United States and a conservative research institute based in Jerusalem, where he worked to promote free-market reform in Israel.

After moving to Brooklyn the following year, Mr. Yerushalmi said he began studying Arabic and Shariah under two Islamic scholars, whom he declined to name.

He is an American Hasidic Jew — literally the third thing we learn about him after his name and age — and lawyer, hostile to the secular socialist roots of Israel1 who suddenly became troubled by the nature of Islam after the 9/11 attacks.

Maybe. But I don’t think that it’s coincidental that Yerushalmi was an American living in Israel — a state often described as an agent of American power in the Middle East2 and in particular living in an areas which is easily (and I think fairly) described as an Israeli colonial territory. I think it’s more likely that the experience of living in occupied territory radicalized him, hardened his views on Islam. He was engaged in a struggle at the frontier of civilization, in his own mind, when members of a group he already percieved as the enemy struck at his homeland, to which he returned to share his hard-won perspective on the issues. And because of the shock of that attack, compounded by the ongoing challenge of war overseas and economic troubles, he found people receptive to his message of a subversive force at work in the world, an existential conflict.

Being an empire means having peripheries, and those peripheries are going to have troubles, in no small part because of their relationship with the metropole. But mistaking the tensions of the periphery for an existential crisis is the kind of lack of perspective which signals weak leadership, a distorted public sphere, and a high probability of escalating sunken cost fallacies driving policy.

  1. Note that the “conservative research institute” isn’t named, begging the question of whose definition of “conservative” the reporter is using in this description. []
  2. though I think “stalking horse” or “scapegoat” might be more precise []

5/29/2011

Young Samurai: Way of the Dragon and the Battle of Osaka

The third installment of Chris Bradford’s Young Samurai series shifts modes mid-book, when the action moves from the original Harry Potter-esque bildungsroman mode to the tragic — Young Jack is on the side of the Toyotomi, as it turns out — Battle of Osaka.

[More Spoilers Ahead]1

The book is considerably longer than the first two installments, a common feature of end-of-series climaxes, and continues with the cultural and historical bad habits noted in the first two works.2 At least, being a climactic moment, many of the historical alterations are clarified — if not well justified. There are two substantial changes to the historical record, which explain most of the other distortions: postponing the Tokugawa dominion of Japan until after the Battle of Osaka, and transforming the banning of Christianity into xenophobic nationalism and a popular movement, rather than a geo-political calculation.3 And ninja. Lots of ninja. I’m going to focus on the historiographical oddities this time, though I reserve the right to note new contextual and literary failings.

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  1. I don’t really consider that a spoiler; it’s an actual event. Knowing how things turn out is fundamental to historical work. Though I must concede that Bradford’s willingness to mess with the timeline does raise some doubt. []
  2. The Way of the Warrior and The Way of the Sword. Also, the book jacket copy is unchanged. []
  3. Needless to say, the historical changes require substantial alterations to the characters of many historical figures. One can only hope that the bad pseudonyms shield young readers from connecting these caricatures with real people. At one point, the Miyamoto Musashi stand-in orders Jack to commit seppuku, then retracts it and calls it a “little joke.” (72) []

12/28/2010

Syllabus Blogging: Modern Japan and World History

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:09 pm

It’s been a while since I did some syllabus blogging, but the most interesting course I was going to teach last semester didn’t come through,1 so it’s been a little while since I taught a heavily revised or new course on Japan.
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  1. For reasons passing understanding, “US-East Asia Relations: Migration, Trade and War” failed to garner a single registrant. We have a strong military history component to our program, though, so I’m considering breaking it down further, and just doing a course on 20th century US-East Asian wars. It would be really fun if I could co-teach it with my US military historian colleague, but that’s new administrative territory for me. []

8/30/2010

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.]
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8/7/2009

Adjusting to the new narrative

My China-side colleague, Alan Baumler, noted that China seems to have supplanted Japan as the go-to model for economic development. This has, he says, required him to alter his own attitude towards Chinese history, which never really had much of a triumphal arc before. He says, though

Well, the Japan people seem to have adjusted to going from an Asian Anomaly to a model for humanity and back, so I guess we can.

My response was

Actually, Japan’s gone 180 degrees and has become a negative example for demographic, financial and rights development. Between the “aging Japan”, “Lost Decade” and rising tide of neo-nationalism….. we need a new narrative, too.

The last few times I’ve taught my Japan course that comes up to the present, I’ve used Bumiller’s book, but that one comes just at the beginning of the economic stagnation, and is now approaching 20 years old. I haven’t seen much that I’d like to use to replace it, either literature or ethnography. There’s Japan After Japan, but it seems like the kind of stuff I’d have to spend more time explaining and excusing than making good use of. I’m tempted to shift in the direction of global diaspora or something on the globalization of Japanese culture, but both of those seem a bit like avoiding the question.

What’s the new narrative? Have the economic slowdown, normalization, and globalization affected the way you present the post-war arc, or are the last two decades a distinct period?

7/16/2009

ASPAC Blogging: Japan’s Political Present and Future

Fauna of Soka - Squirrel standingMy copanelists on Saturday were political scientists, and it was a good update for me on what what’s going on with Japan in the last ten years or so. “Normalization” is the name of the game: Japan’s political spectrum and international relations are starting to look a lot less like Yoshida’s vision and a lot more like a pretty normal regional power.
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6/27/2009

Conference Blogging: ASPAC 2009 at Soka University

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:06 pm

Soka - Peace Lake Founders HallASPAC was at Soka University of America this year. It’s in the hills above Laguna Beach, just down the road from Irvine, on the edge of a nature reserve. The campus is new — they opened in 2001 — and compact, with shiny new buildings and real ambition. Being a hilltop campus, there’s a lot of stairs; being in southern California, and near a nature preserve, there’s some lovely flora and fauna on campus, and I think I’ve solidified my reputation among my conference colleagues as “the camera guy.” Like so many American colleges, Soka U. has a religious foundation to its community and pedagogy, but is open to non-Soka Gakkai students and faculty1 and has a secular, transformative mission.

Soka - PrinciplesSoka Gakkai tends to be something of a sideshow for Japan specialists — a Nichiren sect with a political wing, it’s the largest single religious institution in Japan but usually gets folded in with the rest of the Buddhist traditions; the political aspects of it get subsumed by the LDP’s continuing dominance — but it has a global reputation for peace, environmental and educational projects which goes well beyond their numbers. One of the papers I heard on Sunday was a discussion of the role of foreign language study in Soka Gakkai pedagogy.2 Soka founder Makiguchi Tsunesaburo was an adherent of John Dewey’s liberal humanism and Immanuel Kant’s enlightenment philosophy before he became a Nichiren Buddhist, making it a thoroughly global new religion.3 The engraving on the left reads
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  1. I can’t speak for the student body, but the Soka faculty who’ve dealt with the ASPAC board aren’t SG adherents []
  2. The paper was arguing that Soka theory leads to a more advanced and effective language teaching system, but most of it sounded an awful lot like the dialogues, N+1 and immersion methods I encountered in the ’80s. The Makiguchi stuff was fascinating, though. []
  3. No, I’m still not sure how you combine Kant, Dewey and Nichiren in a consistent theological fashion. The tensions between nationalism and internationalism, enlightenment ecumenicism and Lotus Sutra exclusivism, just to name a few, seem substantial. My personal experience with SG members in Japan suggests that it propogates as a sort of Prosperity Gospel, but that doesn’t actually simplify anything. []

6/7/2009

Before the miniseries, there was….

Shogun Game cover I’m not sure when my family got this game, but I remember playing with it in the late 70s. Though Shogun is described as a “digital” game, there’s no electronics involved: magnets in the board turn the dial in each piece until a number shows in the window; that number is how far the piece can move next time. The pseudo-random element takes some of the strategy out of the game1 and so it moves pretty quickly. Below you can see a rare early checkmate — most games involve a lot of piece exchanges before checkmate is on the table — that my 7 year-old managed to pull of in his third game. The numbers swinging around in the pieces is quite enchanting, especially for kids.

Shogun Game Max MateThe game seems to have been invented by a Japanese, but I’m not sure it was ever marketed in Japan. Clavell’s Shogun came out a year or so before this game did, so it’s likely that the title would have been attached to anything with a hint of Japaneseness about it.

The association of ‘Japan’ with ‘digital’ is interesting; the use of ‘digital’ itself is an interesting cultural moment, the transition from ‘transistor’ to ‘digital.’ It’s got to be early in the analog v. digital wars, and the term is clearly being misused, as this is a patently analog game. Like “Shogun,” “digital” is a marketing device intended to invoke emotional responses rather than being descriptive.

  1. especially if you play a cutthroat version which doesn’t allow players to test moves before making them []

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