井の中の蛙

9/5/2011

Twitterstorian Anniversary

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:56 pm

Telephones - late 1800s-1930sAs an historian, I consider anniversaries irrelevant. However, as a social function, naturally, they matter a great deal, and the internet itself moves so quickly at times that it’s worth looking back regularly to maintain perspective. Twitter itself, for example, is less than five years old, and I’ve been using it for about two years. About a year two years1 ago, our erstwhile colleague Katrina Gulliver began cataloging historians on twitter under the title Twitterstorians, and now has a list of a few hundred participants, ranging from personal accounts to institutional ones to historical recreation and quotation lists.

Like any social media, a lot of what happens on twitter appears to be fluff and nonsense, even a lot of what comes from the accounts of bona fide historians. I consider twitter to be a kind of semi-professional discussion: not a private, personal space,2 nor a professional project,3 but a space for informal discussions on political, cultural, historical and educational matters (with the ocassional foray into fluff and nonsense, for fun). I do have some local colleagues on twitter, and there are a few other Japanese historians4 as well as a pretty good collection of non-historian Japan-interested folks.
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  1. What a shameful mistake for an historian! []
  2. I use facebook for that, where I limit my contacts to family, close friends and long-time acquaintances. No, I don’t assume it’s secret (which is what most people mean by ‘private’ but that it’s out of easy reach, and personal rather than professional) []
  3. Like this blog, or my course blogs []
  4. not a complete list. Morgan Pitelka has an account, though he doesn’t say much. I’m sure there are more, too. There always are. []

4/11/2010

Frog in a Well Guides: A Basic Guide to Resources on Japanese Colonialism

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:06 pm

Here at Frog in a Well we have attempted to occasionally go beyond our role as a publisher of three group weblogs on the history of East Asia. Though it still has very few entries, our Frog in a Well Library contains some primary historical documents. The East Asian Libraries and Archives wiki contains a slowly growing collection of entries with useful information about libraries and archives in East Asia, as well as other information on databases, organizations, and links to other similar resources.

We would now like to announce a new addition: Frog in a Well Guides. Here we would like to host a collection of guides, created by students or scholars of East Asia. We currently imagine these to be primarily bibliographies or research guides tailored to specific areas of research on East Asia. It is inspired by other wonderful existing resources such as the Modern Chinese History bibliography, the Korean History Bibliography, and most of all the wonderful work by students of Professor Henry Smith’s Japanese Bibliography course at Columbia University.

All the guides will be published with a Creative Commons license to allow the greatest possible freedom in using them, and we welcome edited, revised, or expanded versions of existing guides by new authors. Also, each guide will have its own page on the EALA wiki where anyone may leave comments, or recommendations for others to incorporate in future updated versions.

Our first guide has been contributed by our own Sayaka Chatani, PhD Candidate at Columbia University:

A Basic Guide to Resources on Japanese Colonialism

The EALA wiki page for the guide, if you have suggestions can be found here. Many thanks to Sayaka for contributing this.

3/18/2010

Modern Digital Library vs Google Books

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:06 pm

When the Japanese National Diet Library started putting Meiji period and Taishō period books online and fully viewable in their Modern Digital Library (近代デジタルライブラリー) I remember thinking, “Wow, this is amazing! If only there could be access to books in other languages on this scale!”

That collection now has over 150,000 books scanned and included in their database. You don’t need any special plug-ins and the page images are JPEGs. Great job!

This past week I have been doing some heavy lifting research without any library access and Google Books has once again showed itself to be a real friend. I have been able to look up things so fast, with such precision, and check even small obscure details with such ease from a kitchen in Sackets Harbor New York that I’m incredibly tempted to abandon my study of the 1930-40s and never again touch a subject which goes past 1920: why? Because there is a good chance that if you search for something Google Books has before 1920, it will be in full view and you can read, search, and download to your heart’s delight. There are exceptions, which I have complained about on numerous occasions, but still, each time I sit down and really do some heavy searching with Google Books I find an ever increasing availability of even quite obscure works in their database scanned from some of the best libraries around. The limited preview is also incredibly useful as I increasingly look things up with a quick search on Google Books instead of picking up that same book on my table half a meter away. When one knows certain tricks, the limited preview is not even that limited when you really need to read a few pages denied to you.

The internet is now filled with debates about what the Google Books settlement will mean for publishers, writers, and researchers, as well as casual readers on the internet. I don’t want to fight that fight here, but I will point out one obvious fact:

The 近代デジタルライブラリー now looks like something out of the stone age compared to the interface provided in full view on Google Books. It is downright painful to go back. It is like going from the web back to the world of gopher on a dial-up connection. It is slow to load each page and single page display. It isn’t just that Google has the money to put a lot of effort into its presentation. To be sure, it isn’t trivial to create a web based reading experience which allows you seamless scrolling while pages load in the background, and the host of other little features they have included.

However, they decided early on that if they will give you full view, they are going to give you full view: allowing PDF and ePub downloads (albeit watermarked and not searchable offline).

A lot of databases like 近代デジタルライブラリー or the アジア歴史資料センター have a completely different philosophy, even for works that have long been in the public domain: sure we will give you a whole page but only zoomed out. If you zoom in we’ll give you a little piece of it in JPEG form. Multi-page download? In the latter case, no way, in the former case, they can create a special PDF for you, with a limited number of combined images:

1度に最大10コマまで指定できます

※ご注意
・コマ番号とは、撮影された各画像に振られた番号です。
・PDFファイルが作成されるまでに時間がかかる場合があります。
・1コマのファイルサイズは、およそ300KBです。

I see how this is designed to restrict the bandwidth usage on an already slow (at least in the US) website, but this tells me that there needs to be a greater pooling of efforts – either with help from powerful private sector companies such as Google (with care to avoid some of the problems this produces, and even worse horrors of such disasters as Footnote.com) or by pooling resources between governments, or in cooperative agreements between governments and the private sector.

Side note: Google Books has a small number of old Japanese books scanned from US libraries. It has Chinese books too but many of these were affected by complaints from Chinese authors and now have little or no access. Unfortunately many of these books are backwards: page numbers don’t work properly and the pages are shown in reverse in many (but not all) old books I have looked at in the past few days. Google: if you unbind Japanese books and present them in a vertical scrolling interface, you will have reverse the order of the pages!

10/13/2009

Japan’s Embassies to the Tang and Ming

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 6:20 pm

The newly relaunched Sino-Japanese Studies open access journal is coming along nicely with a selection of articles and translations, including many translated chapters of Liu Jianhui’s Demon Capital Shanghai: The “Modern” Experience of Japanese Intellectuals.

The editor, Joshua Fogel, and I have decided to add a new Resources page to the SJS website where we will host various reference materials of use to students and scholars of the interaction between China and Japan.

First up for inclusion on our resource page are two handy English language charts published in Fogel’s Articulating the Sinosphere: Sino-Japanese Relations in Space and Time which list Japan’s embassies to the Ming and Tang courts.

1. Chart of the Japanese Embassies to the Tang Court

2. Chart of Japanese Embassies to the Ming Court

While we had to secure permission from Harvard University Press to post these charts in their unedited published form, there is no reason why the content of these charts and the sources referred to in them can’t be used to improve, for example, the relevant wikipedia entry, etc. See also the Chinese entries and much more detailed Japanese wikipedia entries for the missions.

If there are suggestions for other useful reference information or interactive materials to host at the Sino-Japanese Studies website, let us know and those interested in submitting articles to the open access journal may do so here.

7/23/2009

Online Image Resources: Pedagogy and Geeky Fun

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:03 pm

One of my projects this summer has to do with the use of images in history classes: I’m trying to improve my teaching, and perhaps help others, by scanning pictures1 and identifying online sources for good images, as well as trying to figure out ways to do more with the images in the classroom. There’s been some great discussion of powerpoint and images in the classroom at Edge of the American West over the last week, the upshot of which is that images don’t really help all that much, unless you use them well. Not a surprising result, but the fact is that I use images sparingly in the classroom (and have never used powerpoint) because my training — and natural talents, I think — is heavily textual. I love a good map or chart, and I do use art in class both for cultural history and as historical documentation, but not enough. It’s not about “appealing to visual learners” as much as it is my belief that visual and physical materials are going to be increasingly important in historical analysis, both as sources and as forms of presentation. This isn’t cutting edge theory, or at least it shouldn’t be.

Anyway, that’s by way of preface for some of the stuff I hope to be posting here2 over the next few months: images from my collection, and discussions of what they might mean, historically and pedagogically; other resources for visual materials and commentary on potential uses; links to other discussions of visual analysis; that sort of thing.

So, here’s my first collection of links:
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  1. both from books, which has copyright limitations, and from my own collection of slides and digital pictures, which doesn’t (at least for me, which is what matters!) []
  2. and at the other Frog blogs []

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 []

1/19/2009

Dutch Futurists

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:10 pm

Alan Baumler pointed me to peacay’s recent post of Dutch images of 17th century Japan. Some of them are quite accurate — the images of samurai, in particular, are quite nice — and based on the observations of Dutch traders and scholars at the Deshima trading station in Nagasaki harbor. Some of the images are based on Indian or Chinese models (though the tradition of religious statuary shared between these cultures means that they’re not as terrible as you might think). Some are pretty bizarre, but that’s par for the course before the 19th century.

Then there’s the one that stopped me in my tracks:

17c Dutch Engraving of reverse rickshaw

You can find the original here, in the full context of the book. Someone who reads 17th century Dutch might be able to help me, because I’m quite curious about the text at this point. Without it, though, I can only speculate.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, mainly the fact that the jinrikisha wasn’t invented for another two hundred years. Also, Japanese did not use wheeled carts for transporting goods.1. Before that, Japanese traveled mostly by foot and by boat. Samurai travelled by horse, sometimes. Other elites — including samurai, nobles, village headmen, the wealthy — traveled by palanquin (aka litter). Even the transport of commercial goods was mostly by boat and by hand.

While there seems to be some dispute about the origins of the rickshaw, nobody has ever suggested that it developed in the 1600s! I suspect what we see here is a failure of imagination. Having seen images of palanquins and bearers, but unable to concieve of transport without wheels, the illustrator added the — to him entirely obvious and necessary — elements. In the process, he created a shocking anachronism, and if anyone had taken these images seriously, could have radically altered the history of transportation.

  1. Hal Bolitho called Japan’s abandonment of the wheel one of the great mysteries of Japanese history, along with the failure to adopt the chair and the survival of the Imperial institution []

11/29/2008

Dig into those archives: History Carnival and Cliopatria Awards

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:17 am

Two deadlines are fast approaching:

  • nominations for Cliopatria Awards for best blogging, 2008 (covering from December 2007 through November 2008) close Sunday at midnight. I am one of the judges so there are several categories I can’t nominate in (or be nominated in): you have to do it yourself!
  • nominations for the December History Carnival (covering November) also close Sunday at midnight. Nominations page here. I will be hosting the carnival here, so keep an eye out!

11/9/2008

Japanese City Plans and Topographical Maps from the US Occupation

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:11 am

While I’m sure there are a lot of similar resources that deserve equal mention, I wanted to post a link while it is fresh on my mind. There are a great collection of online maps of Japan available for direct viewing via the website of the University of Texas Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection. They include a list of US army topographic maps from around 1954 and Japanese city plans from 1945-1946. Wonderful to be able to download this directly and see what these places looked like as of the end of the war.

Japan Topographic Maps
Japan City Plans

You might want to also check out their China maps and Chinese historical maps.

If you agree that this is a great resource, consider leaving them a comment thanking them for making it available online via the U of Texas library comment page.

3/16/2008

Images of Late Medieval Disease Critters and Meiji Toys

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 8:47 pm

Japanese historical visual materials are becoming available online in increasing quantities and variety, as seen in two posts from the last week from Pink Tentacle and BiblioOdyssey. The former posted an entry titled “Mythical 16th-century disease critters” which introduces a text owned and published online by the Kyushu National Museum:

Harikikigaki, a book of medical knowledge written in 1568 by a now-unknown resident of Osaka, introduces 63 of these creepy-crawlies and describes how to fight them with acupuncture and herbal remedies. The Kyushu National Museum, which owns the original copy of Harikikgaki, claims the book played an important role in spreading traditional Chinese medicine in Japan.      

BiblioOdyssey’s post introduces a database of late 19th-century, early 20th-century water color depictions of toys. These seem to be by Koizumi Kawasaki (1877-1942): “Japanese Toy Design.” 

Add these to other resources like the Nagasaki University Library’s Metadata Database of Japanese Old Photographs, Database of Nationally Designated Cultural Properties and the Tohoku University Library’s Kano Collection – Image database.

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