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Image/Text in Pre-modern Japan


Admission requirements

Students admitted to MA Asian Studies. Otherwise, please contact instructor.


This seminar will examine discourses on the interaction between image and text with specific reference to in pre-modern Japan (i.e. until 1868). Starting point is the assumption that the image-text relationship is a crucial one to pre-modern Japan and that a mono-disciplinary approach has its limits in analyzing many sources from Japan’s cultural past. The seminar begins with contemporary theories concerning the relationship between images and words and moves on to a number of case studies that take-up specific sets (or “genres”) of image-text relationships in Japanese cultural history, such as paintings, ukiyo-e prints, narrative scrolls paintings (emaki), and calligraphy. The seminar also examines a range of readings of scholarly works on these materials from art-historical, visual, and literary studies and probes the possibilities of combining these disciplines in order to think critically about the way they interact.

Course objectives

The course aims to introduce students to a range of exemplary scholarly texts in visual, art historical and literary studies in English and (for those who are able) Japanese; to develop an awareness of relevant approaches, methodologies and schools; to develop a knowledge of the multi-disciplinary way in which such approaches interact in the academic study of Japanese pre-modern cultures and societies; to give students the capacity to react critically to different approaches and form their own scholarly responses.


The timetable is available on the Asianstudies website

Mode of instruction

Seminar (werkgroep) with lecture elements

Course Load

280 hours total

  • Weekly seminars: 4 hours per week; 28 hours total

  • Preparation for classwork: 6 hours per week; 84 hours total

  • Preparation for presentation: 20 hours

  • Written work: 148 hours

Assessment method

  • participation (including presentation) 35%

  • 4 position papers 25%

  • 1 term paper (± 3,000 words) 40%.

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.

The end-term paper is written in two stages: a first version, which will be commented on, and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the final version, will get a failing grade.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher. A new paper to replace the written work (65%) may be written if the overall mark for the course is “5.49” (=5) or lower. The deadline for this version will be determined in consultation. In the case of a re-write the overall grade will not exceed 6.0.

The course is an integrated whole. All categories must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Exam Review

Students may request an oral elucidation of the assessment within 30 days after publication of the grade.


Blackboard for course announcements, course documents, and assignments.

Reading List

to follow.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch


Prof. dr. Ivo Smits