Trying not to whine….

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:45 am

It’s syllabus time here at FrogInAWell. I’ve got a bit of an overload this semester, and I’m trying to be really good-humored about it, but I suspect that the mid-semester crunch is going to strain my acting abilities. I got dragooned into teaching a course in our graduate program, our US-China Masters degree (no, they haven’t built the dorms yet, either), but the History department really can’t give me a release to go do something in another course, so I’m teaching it as an overload. Then my seminar on Meiji Japan came in under the limit for enrollment, so it was decided to drop it and have me teach a second section of World History; more grading, but it means one less course prep, so I said OK. It would have ended there — three preps, four sections — but a few of the students who had registered for the Meiji course actually need it (or something like it) to graduate, so I agreed to tutor them through the course as a directed study. So I’m up to the functional equivalent of five sections of four preparations.

My Early Japan course (pre-1600) is very similar to the last iteration, with the biggest difference being the addition of Mary Elizabeth Berry’s Culture of Civil War in Kyoto as a capstone reading. It’ll be a challenge, but it’s the kind of secondary scholarship I love: richly detailed with primary materials, with a kind of “core sample” approach that gives a taste of what’s going on from the highest to lowest levels of society. The Meiji Japan course is mostly material that I’ve read over the years…. except for Donald Keene’s biography of the Meiji Emperor — I think “magisterial” is the only word we’re permitted to use to refer to books of that magnitude — which I’m really looking forward to seeing students respond to. If my dedicated directed study kids can handle it, it might work in actual classes.

Finally, there’s my China course, the first time I’ve ever gotten to teach a “what’s happening now” instead of a historical syllabus, not to mention my first graduate course. It’s fun! I did have to do some scrambling on readings, though, including one I just picked up in Atlanta. On the other hand, any news articles on China that come out in the next three months are classroom fodder.


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.


Thanksgiving Vacation and Homework

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:17 am


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!


Love and Inspiration

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:56 am

My aunt, Alice Schlossberg, passed away on Sunday. She was the first Asianist and history teacher in my family, and I will miss her terribly. Perhaps my first real taste of Asian culture — as opposed to Chinese food — was finding Zen Comics in her book collection as a kid.

She was the kind of teacher I never had in high school: rigorous, energetic, smart, inspiring and effective. (I had some of those, but never in one package). Being part of a medium-sized school, she taught US — she was a proud member of the Millard Fillmore Society, she told me — and European history — she had her students simulate the Versailles conference — as well as Asian.

The last few years, Alice had been spending summers getting familiar with new technologies and new scholarship, building web sites with primary and secondary materials for student research projects. She told me about some of the tricks and techniques she used to draw students in, like having them write their responses and interpretations to five minutes of a documentary about the Ganges with the sound off, so there was no voice-over telling them what to think.

Much of what I remember and loved about her has nothing to do with her work — the chocolate chip corn muffins, the penguin collection (her brother — my father — also began collecting penguins as an adult, independently), the incredibly irreverent humor (puns and all) and strong sense of justice, the holidays. The Schlossbergs live in Beverly, just north of Boston, so I got to know the MBTA commuter trains pretty well. They were always welcoming and supportive, and every graduate student should have an aunt and her family in the vicinity, I think.

We will miss her, and I hope that I can continue to grow as a teacher until I feel like I’ve lived up to her example.


Arita Drug & Rubber Goods, Kobe?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:39 am

An astute student in my Japanese Women class sent me this link [very adult content] with the thought that I might use it…. to stimulate…. class discussion! I’m actually quite intrigued… by the historical context and puzzle it presents. For those of you who wisely refrained from clicking through on first link, it’s a catalog of sexual devices and medicinals, bearing the imprint

Arita Drug & Rubber Goods Co.
Export and Import
1 Motomachi St.
Tel. Sasanomiya (3) 1465



Escaping the Binaries of Meiji Modernity

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 11:29 pm

I gave a talk at the “Promoting and Resisting Westernization in Meiji Japan” symposium this past weekend at Scripps College in Claremont, CA. The symposium, associated with the opening of an exhibition titled “Chikanobu: Modernity and Nostalgia in Japanese Prints,” was a lot of fun and included a diverse mix of art historians, historians, and religious studies scholars. The dominant analytical themes were, not surprisingly, “nostalgia,” taken from the catalog and exhibition, and “resisting and promoting Westernization,” taken in part from William Steele’s opening lecture on the “Civilization and Enlightenment” critic Sada Kaiseki.

The proceedings included a few surprises for me, one of which was that the basic opposition of promoting and resisting Westernization, as if Westernization were a coherent and tangible thing, went relatively unchallenged. This seems a bit like piling one problematic binary structure on top of another. I think the organizers intended the name of the symposium to become fodder for analysis, but instead the idea that Westernization and tradition stood in stark contrast, and that people alive during Meiji could be categorized as either promoters or resisters (what I like to think of as the “cheerleader” vs. “rebel” model of Meiji ideology), didn’t really endure much sustained probing. (Maybe we were all too busy looking at the woodblock prints, many of which I hadn’t seen before.)

Today I was back in the classroom teaching “Modern Japan” and I found myself remembering the way that this binary had been taught in my undergraduate days: as a pendulum of public opinion, swinging back and forth between pro- and anti-Westernization. This was a clear and easy hermeneutic to follow when I was 19, but it seems to me now that for many in Meiji the reality was a hybrid culture that emerged from shifting engagement with new ideas, technologies, and people from all over the world. When Kyoto held the first domestic exposition or hakurankai in 1871, it was engaging in a practice that had been learned, in some ways, from the phantasmagoric International Expositions that had been held in Europe and that would soon also be held in America, to be sure. But as Peter Kornicki has shown in his 1994 Monumenta Nipponica article, ample domestic precendents existed. Wannabe industrialists as well as tea masters organized that event, and both were trying to make sense of recent political changes and new socioeconomic opportunities. Of course the dialectic of “bunmei kaika” and “tradition” was an important part of Meiji discourse, but weren’t both of these ideas fundamentally part of Japan’s modernity and thus not really in opposition?

This is, I know, an old debate, but I’m wondering how people deal with this in the classroom? How, when you have to cover a period of time like 1868 to the present, or 1600 to 1945, or however you structure a course on Modern Japan, do you devote ample time to teasing out these lived complexities?


History Carnival #38

“For both nations and inviduals have sometimes made a virtue of neglecting history; and history has taken its revenge on them.” — H. R. Trevor-Roper “The Past and the Present: History and Sociology” (1969), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 197.

Welcome to the September 1, 2006 edition of history carnival. I’m finally hosting a carnival with a number as high as my age! In honor of the quotes meme making the rounds, I’m going to use my personal quotation file as, um, decoration around the rich collection of material in this carnival. As usual, I’m making up categories as I go along: anyone who treats them as strict or comprehensive cataloging gets what they deserve!


« Previous Page

Powered by WordPress