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History of Japan to 1868


Admission requirements



This course examines the history of organized human societies in the Japanese archipelago from pre-history to the second half of the nineteenth century. We will focus particularly on the historical narrative traditionally used to represent the formation of what in modern times is referred to as “the Japanese nation”. In other words, this course deliberately focuses on mainstream political histories of Japan. This is partly because most studies of Japanese literature, society, politics, law, art or economics are heavily influenced by this mainstream, traditional approach to Japanese history. It is also because most global histories, even today, tend to rely on this approach when integrating Japan into world history. Therefore it is important for students to have an in-depth understanding of this way of looking at Japanese history, and to be capable of taking a critical stance towards it.

Although we will utilize this traditional narrative to work through around 1500 years of Japanese history, the course also aims to give students a basic introduction to skills through which they can develop their own critical approaches to such narratives. The primary way we do this is by introducing translated source documents and encouraging students to use these sources to build-on, support and/or criticize the mainstream historical narratives which are introduced.

Course objectives

This course aims to equip students with a base knowledge of major events and narratives in the history of Japan up to the late 1800s. This includes equipping students with a solid understanding of the relationship between Japanese, East Asian and World histories over this period.

The course also aims to give the first year student an introduction to methods of exploring and resolving the tension between “sources” and “narrative” inherent in much historical research on this period. It does that by encouraging students to read and use translated historical source material.

Time table

Check Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Midterm take-home test: 35%

  • Final paper: 65%



Required reading

  • Boot W.J., Keizers en Shōgun (Boot), pp. 9-28

  • De Bary et. al., Sources of Japanese Tradition, Second Edition, Vol. 1, Columbia University Press, 2001 (Sources)


Enrollment via uSis is mandatory, for more information about enrollment check Links on the first page of the Japanese Studyguide 2010-2011

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Enrollment for A la carte:
Enrollment for Contractonderwijs:


Dhr. Dr. K. Paramore