井の中の蛙

12/7/2010

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
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7/13/2010

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

9/27/2009

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:
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9/19/2009

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:
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  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. []

6/1/2009

Tomb Near Artifacts that Date to Himiko’s Purported Reign Dates Identified

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:55 pm

Am I the only person who had a bad reaction to the Tomb of legendary Japanese Queen Himiko found headlines I’ve been seeing?

The article says

Archaeologists had previously claimed that the tomb, built in the traditional keyhole-shape design, was built in the fourth century and therefore too modern for Queen Himiko.

But a team led by Professor Hideki Harunari has discovered new clay artefacts close to the site, which radiocarbon dating indicates were made between 240AD and 260AD. According to records from the Chinese court, with which the Yamatai kingdom had links, Queen Himiko died around 250 AD.

The evidence seems quite circumstantial to me, from the oddly specific radio-carbon dating to the fact that they haven’t studied the tomb itself, to the treatment of Himiko and Yamatai as unequivocally Nara-centered.

I was just commenting on Jonathan Jarrett’s article about rehdroxylation rate dating that it would be nice to have better dating technology, as a safeguard against wishful thinking and distortions of the archaeological record.

5/5/2009

Dangerous Data

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:05 pm

By now most of you have probably heard of the erasure of buraku — the segregated communities of Japanese outcastes — from Google Earth.1 The continuing discrimination against burakumin — hisabetsuminzoku2 is the phrase I was taught to use in the late ’80s, but it doesn’t seem to have stuck — which often uses their unique geographic footprint as a tool for identifying the otherwise indistinguishable burakumin from the rest of the Japanese population was the issue: having the maps on Google Earth made it too easy.

The discussion at H-Japan has been fairly low-key3 and the UCB Library has calmed the scholars’ fears by announcing that the only alterations were made to the Google Earth versions, not to the online digital archive versions. That narrows the problem a bit…
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  1. I got that from a student just before it showed up on H-Japan. []
  2. literally “peoples who have been discriminated against” []
  3. though Paul Stephen Lim’s story of government pressure to downplay burakumin issues is pretty shocking []

12/1/2008

December 2008 History Carnival

Roman female sarcophagus muses right side The History Carnival

“In retrospect, historians are usually right.”Der Spiegel interviewer (11-11-08).

This has been a lively month for history blogging, for some obvious reasons — the election, the economic turmoil — and despite the mid-semester doldrums that often strike this time of year. I will, because I can’t leave well enough alone, be decorating this carnival with images from my collection.1

Hot Topics

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  1. collected shamelessly for educational purposes from museums (the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City), parks (Fort Scott, Kansas) and private collections (Waikoloa Hilton, Hawai’i). Fair use applies: if you find any of this useful, feel free to use it as appropriate, giving credit where credit is due. []

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…. []

2/1/2008

AHA 2008: a very limited perspective

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:31 pm

It was a very busy conference for me, but my meetings didn’t leave me a lot of time for panels.1 None, in fact, except for our own, which was great fun. I did get to do some social stuff, including the Cliopatria/IHE dinner, a visit with the Progressive Historian himself and an evening with a college friend that ended up at a used bookstore (see below).

I did think our panel was quite fun, though a bit limited by the absence of Nathanael Robinson (and his paper). That said, though, I think Alan Baumler and Rebecca Goetz did an excellent job squaring the circle of our presentations, a job that would have been complicated by another thesis. One of the members of the audience was a British grad student who’s doing microhistory in the same regions I studied in Yamaguchi: it was a pleasant, but shocking, experience to realize that I’m not going to be the only person who knows something about this.

My own paper is an outgrowth of thinking about ways to connect the history of Japanese emigration with contemporary Japanese immigration issues. The return migration of Nikkei from Brazil, the Philipines, North America, etc., is a striking case: Japan permits easy remigration of these groups because they are expected to be culturally assimilable in a way that Chinese, Korean or Philippine immigrants wouldn’t be, but the assimilation which has taken place over three or four generations has made that considerably more difficult. Why, then, didn’t Japanese authorities (or the Japanese people in general) realize that assimilation would create culturally distinct Nikkei? My theory is that pre-’45 nationalism obscured the normal patterns of assimilation which take place in multi-generational immigrant communities: certainly, out-migration to Hawai’i and the Philippines was thought of like colonial frontier settlement more than as the transfer of population to a new host culture. Histories of emigration and studies of Nikkei communities by Japanese scholars continued to obscure assimilation by focusing on the way in which traditional values and recreated traditional institutions bolstered the overseas community, taking their successes as evidence of innate Japanese qualities — perseverence, education2, cohesion. This is particularly stark when compared with English language histories of immigration, which emphasize assimilation as the very foundation of success in the new host culture, and emphasize efforts at modernization and entrepreneurship.

Manan Ahmed’s paper was much more interesting, a historiography of the tension between conquerers as national heroes and heroic resisters as local icons. The local counternarrative of resistance got very elaborate, as entertaining stories of weaker figures wrecking vengeance on powerful ones often are. Ultimately, as he described it, the heroic invader — heroic from the standpoint of constructing a unified national narrative, anyway — is dehistoricized and turned into an inoffensive (and uninspiring, I’d guess) “unifier” while local resistance is effectively erased from the national narrative.3 In other words, and I don’t remember who said it this way, but someone did, the life is drained out of the biography until the hero becomes “nice.”

I do remember Alan Baumler’s comments drawing the papers together by highlighting their biographical and genealogical aspects, the way in which pre-national figures can be integrated into national self-narratives as ancestors and the way in which shared ancestry can bridge other modern/national divides. The idea that values are inherited through blood is a powerful common error with which we regularly contend. I was just lecturing this week on nationalism, and the way in which it is based on an historical fiction which obscures margins, minorities and migration.4 There was some discussion — initiated by Rebecca, if memory serves — about the way in which many nations cleanse their histories by a similar sort of biographical emasculation or justify invasions and other atrocities by a sort of victors’ hagiography.5

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  1. In spite of which, I’m in the running for latest conference blogging []
  2. There’s a whole research program yet to be undertaken with regard to educational values. The standing assumption, based on the high educational achievements of Nisei, is that there was something inherent in traditional Japanese culture which valued education, which is patently untrue for the rural laborers who make up a large portion of the immigrant population. The successor thesis — that the Meiji emphasis on education and “self-help” was the key factor — assumes a rapid transmission of these ideas from city to country which is a bit hard to accept. The basic question of literacy rates among immigrants versus their sending communities isn’t really clear yet, and a fair examination of the other questions really hasn’t been done. []
  3. note some of the similarities to Hiraku Shimoda’s argument []
  4. I didn’t use the alliteration in class, but I’m going to have to remember it for next time []
  5. I was reminded, though I didn’t get a chance to mention it, of the Enola Gay controversy []

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