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Visualizing Japan

I haven’t posted for a while. I have been engrossed in my most recent course which started on 3rd September and has recently finished.

Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity

Presented by: John Dower, Andrew Gordon, Shigeru Miyagawa, Gennifer Weisenfeld

A first-time MITx/HarvardX collaboration, VJx opens windows on Japan’s transition into the modern world through the historical visual record. The modules cover:

  • Use of visual records as primary sources for the study of history;
  • Black Ships & Samurai — Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853-54 expedition to force Japan to open its doors to the outside world;
  • Social Protest in Imperial Japan: The Hibiya Riot of 1905 — the first major social protest in the age of “imperial democracy” in Japan;
  • Modernity in Interwar Japan: Shiseido & Consumer Culture — exploring the vast archives of the Shiseido cosmetics company opens a fascinating window on the emergence of consumer culture, modern roles for women, and global cosmopolitanism.

About the course.

I highly recommend this course. I haven’t written about this course because, as the title suggests, it is mainly a visual course.  The details of the course and some of the thousands of images are below.

Black ships.

This co-taught course looks at Japanese history and the skills and questions involved in reading history through images now accessible in digital formats. The course is based on the MIT “Visualizing Cultures” website devoted to image-driven research on Japan and China since the 19th century (visualizingcultures.mit.edu). The introductory module considers methodologies historians use to “visualize” the past, followed by three modules that explore the themes of Westernization, in Commodore Perry’s 1853-54 expedition to Japan; social protest, in Tokyo’s 1905 Hibiya Riot; and modernity, as seen in the archives of the major Japanese cosmetics company, Shiseido.

Module 0: Introduction: New Historical Sources for a Digital Age (Professors Dower, Gordon, Miyagawa). Digitization has dramatically altered historians’ access to primary sources, making large databases of the visual record readily accessible. How is historical methodology changing in response to this seismic shift? How can scholars, students, and the general public make optimal use of these new digital resources?

Crew from the ship.

Module 1: Black Ships & Samurai (Professor Dower). Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853-54 expedition to force Japan to open its doors to the outside world is an extraordinary moment to look at by examining and comparing the visual representations left to us by both the American and Japanese sides of this encounter. This module also addresses the rapid Westernization undertaken by Japan in the half century following the Perry mission.

Social protest

Module 2: Social Protest in Imperial Japan: The Hibiya Riot of 1905 (Professor Gordon). The dramatic daily reports from participants in the massive “Hibiya Riot” in 1905, the first major social protest in the age of “imperial democracy” in Japan, offer a vivid and fresh perspective on the contentious domestic politics of an emerging imperial power.

Shiseido

Module 3: Modernity in Interwar Japan: Shiseido & Consumer Culture (Professors Dower, Gordon, Weisenfeld). Exploring the vast archives of the Shiseido cosmetics company opens a fascinating window on the emergence of consumer culture, modern roles for women, and global cosmopolitanism from the ‘teens through the 1920s and even into the era of Japanese militarism and aggression in the 1930s. This module will also tap other Visualizing Cultures units on modernization and modernity.


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2 Comments

  1. Ian Niven says:

    Louise, I studied this one as well, and have just started the follow-up on Tokyo. I found it very interesting, and helped me in using visual sources more competently for my history degree.

    Ian

    • Louise Taylor says:

      I really enjoyed all the pictures too and find them more stimulating than text. I haven’t started the one on Tokyo as I was meant to start Søren Kierkegaard – Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity. Unfortunately I am too far behind now to catch up with that one. I’m sure I’ll find another soon.
      Thanks for the comment.

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