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State of the Field Seminar: Issues in the History and Historiography of Modern Japan


Admission requirements



The study of the history of Modern Japan, like that of other modern societies, has played host both to global scholarly trends, methodologies, and debates, and to issues and topics specific to Japan. Long perceived and portrayed as profoundly different from the modern West, and at the same time seen as unique among non-Western societies in its successful pursuit of Western-style modernization, modern Japan has been distinctly subject to ongoing debates over the universal applicability of Western scholarly categories and paradigms. How was Japan-s modernization achieved, and how did its nature and experience compare with those of other modern societies? Was the Meiji Restoration a revolution in the Western sense? How are we to describe the modern Japanese state and society? What were the nature and driving forces in Japan-s economic growth and imperial expansion? How did Japan build its empire-and how did the empire build Japan? Was prewar Japan a democracy? How did the experiences of war and the American occupation contribute to the making of postwar Japan?

Course objectives

In this Master-s Seminar we shall together read, research, present on, and discuss exemplary scholarly texts in English and (for those who are able) Japanese treating these and other perennial big questions in the study of Modern Japanese history, with three ends in mind: Firstly, to develop a sense of the existing literature and range of study of modern Japanese history; secondly, to gain awareness of the distinct, evolving, and often sharply contending schools and approaches that have animated scholarly debates; and thirdly, to produce our own critical responses to these questions, and to the methodological strategies employed to answer them.


For more information, check time table.
—> MA timetable

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Tutorial

  • Independent study of academic literature

  • Study visit

  • Field trip

  • Work placement

Assessment method

  • Participation element (including attendance and one oral presentation of approximately 20-30 minutes plus discussion): 35%

  • Analytic element (Position papers on topics from weeks 5-11): 25%

  • Research element (research essay 4,000 words): 40%



Reading list

Readings are selected from a wide range of sources.

  • As the course progresses, with coordination and guidance from the instructor, students will be asked to take turns assembling reading assignments for their fellow students in relation to their weekly presentation topic.

Students with Japanese language training will be expected to consult Japanese as well as English texts.


Enrollment via uSis is mandatory.

Contact information

For further information: Dhr. Dr. E. Mark