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Japan: Light of Asia? War and Decolonization in Asia


Admission requirements

Succesful completion of both second-year BA-Werkcolleges (2nd-year seminars) for BA History students.


The rise of Japan as a major power in the twentieth century gave way to new ideas about Asia, warfare, race, modernity and the dichotomy between East and West. Japan was an inspiration to many countries through its rapid industrialisation and its defeat of Russia. During the expansion of its empire and the military confrontation with Allied forces Japan promised its ‘Asian brothers’ to help cast off the colonial yoke, to unite all Asians and to bring prosperity. The imperial government indeed replaced colonial governments by indigenous leaders, and reinforced in a number of countries revolutionary movements of which some eventually realized independence from their colonial rulers. But to what extent can these developments be ascribed to the Japanese intervention in Asia?

In this seminar the different types of interaction resulting from Japan’s imperial ambitions will be explored. This will be done by analyzing Japanese imperialism and the spread of ideas about Asia and the future of Asia and by examining the policies, the local responses and the impact of the Japanese occupation of Asia on the development of revolutionary movements in Asia. Finally, attention will be paid to the way the ‘Japanese experience’ is represented in the national narratives and current political debates in Asia and the colonial countries. A wide range of primary and secondary sources will be used and critically examined.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

    1. divise and conduct research of limited scope, including:
      a. identifying relevant literature and select and order them according to a defined principle;
      b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information;
      c. an analysis of a scholarly debate;
      d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.
    1. write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the Themacolleges, including
      a. using a realistic schedule of work;
      b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
      c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
      d. giving and receiving feedback;
      e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.
    1. reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based.
    1. select and use primary sources for their own research.
    1. analyse sources, place and interpret them in a historical context.
    1. participate in class discussions.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

    1. The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically of the development of global networks which facilitate an ever growing circulation of people, animals, plants, goods and ideas, and the central role of European expansion in this from around 1500;
    1. Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically of the combining of historiographical debates with empirical research of primary sources and/or the combining of various historiographical traditions through the use of innovative research questions.
  • Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar*
    The student:

    1. develops an understanding of the character of Japanese imperialism and its place in the historiographical debates on imperialism, colonialism and nationalism;
    1. gains general knowledge of Japan’s war-time policies in Asia and the responses of the local people and colonial powers;
    1. Develops an understanding of the impact of the war on the development of nationalist movements in Asia and the process of decolonization;
    1. critically examines the national narratives of the war in Asia and the role of Japan in relation to revolutionary or political movements.


See Timetable and deadlines History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load:
for Cosmopolis students: 5 EC x 28 hours = 140 hours
for regular History students: 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours;

  • Lectures (13 meetings x 2 hours): 26 hours

  • Literature: 60 hours

  • Preparation weekly assignments: 14 hours;

  • Assignments: 2 essays, 40 hours ; final paper (for 10 EC), 140 hours.

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 7200 words, based on problem-oriented research using primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-5, 7-12

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 2-5

  • Participation
    Measured learning objectives: 6

  • Assignment 1 (primary source on nationalism_
    Measured learning objectives: 9, 11

  • Assignment 2 (assessing archival source material)
    Measured learning objectives: 4, 5, 10

  • Assignment 3 (Group assignment on revolutions in Asia)
    Measured learning objectives: 3, 5, 11, 12

  • Essay 1+2, for Cosmopolis students (ca. 2000 words, based on problem-oriented research using primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8

Aside from the assignments mentioned above, small weekly assignments can be given for the weekly literature, which have to be completed sufficiently and according to the instructions in the course syllabus.
The Cosmopolis students (5 EC) do not write thepaper but only two essays.

For 10 EC:
Written paper: 60%
Oral presentation:10 %
Participation: 15%
Assignment 1: 5%
Assignment 2: 5%
Assignment 3: 5%

For 5 EC:
2 essays: 60%
Oral presentation:10 %
Participation: 15%
Assignment 1: 5%
Assignment 2: 5%
Assignment 3: 5%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.

Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline

The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline


Course information and course documents can be found on Blackboard. Students upload assignments and use the discussion board for assignments.

Reading list

Titles will be announced later. Books and articles will be made available on the course shelf in the UB, on Blackboard or by linking to online sources.


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


mw. E.P.M. Zwinkels MA
Room 2.67a


This course is offered to Cosmopolis students; regular History students can register for the (limited) remaining places.