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Writing Histories: Modern Japan, Asia, and the World


Admission requirements

Open to students in the MA programs Asian Studies (60 EC and 120 EC) as well as the Research MA Asian Studies.


What is history, what is it for, and whose is it? While all three of these questions are as old as the discipline of history itself, most recently, it is the last of the three that has increasingly come to occupy global center stage. This development in the writing of history, or historiography, reflects a more general global-historical pattern: Around the world, the last several decades have witnessed both a declining interest in traditional intellectual and political confrontations of “right” and “left,” and a dramatic rise in critical discussion and debate of notions that previously inspired little controversy, including modernity, globalization, Western dominance, gender, race, culture, nation-building and national identity. Such academic shifts in turn reflect shifts and struggles in the global balance of power, including the decline of Euro-American dominance and the end of the Cold War on the one hand, and, on the other, the increasing global empowerment and assertiveness of groups, peoples and places whose active role in the making (and writing) of history was formerly ignored, denied, or suppressed. Asia, and the writing of modern Asian history, stands at the center and forefront of such developments. Geographically within Asia but often regarded as “apart from it” as the only modern Asian nation-state that was also a “successful” imperial power and model of “Western-style” modernization, the experience of modern Japan stands to gain and offer much to these new, more inclusive ways of seeing and writing history, but it also presents a particular challenge. Where does the experience of modern Japan, and the modern Japanese empire, fit within modern Asian and global history, and what can it tell us about these broader paradigms? Through an exploration of such themes as power, culture, and identity, nation- and empire-building, center and periphery, and transnational histories, this course offers a survey of recent topical, theoretical and methodological developments in historiography that bear particular relevance for the study and understanding of the distinctive experience of modern Japan and its empire within a shared Asian and global history.

Course objectives

—to develop a basic knowledge and grasp of essential historical and historiographical issues in the recent study of modern Japan and its empire within a wider Asian and global context, and associated academic schools, approaches and literatures
—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


see timetable

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): 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