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


Admission requirements

Open to students in the MA programs in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean Studies as well as the Research MA Asian Studies.


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?

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.

Course objectives

—to develop a sense of the existing academic literature and range of study of modern Japanese history
—to gain awareness of the distinct, evolving, and often sharply contending schools and approaches that have animated scholarly debates
—to produce our own critical responses to the existing academic literature, and to the methodological strategies employed


Tuesdays 11-13

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

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

  • Analytical element (position papers on topics from weeks 5-11): 25%

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


Yes, see Blackboard.

Reading list

Readings selected from a wide range of sources as the course progresses.


Enrollment via uSis is mandatory.

Contact information

Dr. E. Mark