Nancy Armstrong, Fiction in the Age of Photography
Andrew E. Barshay, State and Intellectual in Imperial Japan
Walter Benjamin, Illuminations
Dana Buntrock, Materials and Meaning in Contemporary Japanese Architecture
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (reread)
Paul Cohen, Discovering History in China
Fa-ti Fan, British Naturalists in Qing China
Judith Farquhar, Appetites
Han Fei Tzu
Ian Christopher Fletcher et al., eds., Women's Suffrage in the British Empire
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
James Hevia, Cherishing Men from Afar
Laura Hostetler, Qing Colonial Enterprise
Rebecca Karl, Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World
Thomas Keirstead, The Geography of Power in Medieval Japan
Kenko, Essays in Idleness
Der Ling, Two Years in the Forbidden City
Lydia Liu, Translingual Practice
Lorenz Luth, The Sino-Soviet Split
André Malraux, Man's Fate
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (reread)
Anchee Min, Pearl of China
Tessa Morris-Suzuki, A History of Japanese Economic Thought
Herman Ooms, Tokugawa Ideology
Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract
Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence
Procopius, The Secret History
The Rig Veda
Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt
Ruth Rogaski, Hygenic Modernity
Edward Said, The Culture of Imperialism
Victor Segalen, Rene Liys
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
Thomas C. Smith, The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan
Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China
Frederick Teggart, Rome and China
E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class
Joanna Waley-Cohen, The Sextants of Beijing
J.Y. Wong, Deadly Dreams
Karl Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism
Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor
I actually moderated a panel at Sirens this year:
Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves: Women in History and in Fantasy and YA
Andrea Horbinski, Robin LaFevers, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Gillian Chisom, Kate Elliott
Women have played a variety of crucial roles in societies around the world since the beginning of recorded history, but popular understandings of those roles don’t always match historical reality. At the same time, there have been many women throughout history who transgressed social boundaries. How have folktales, fantasy, and young adult books depicted and reflected women in history? What can we learn about the past and about our own current moment from these depictions? This panel will explore these questions and many more.
It's at 4pm at the Institute of East Asian Studies, and the event is open to the public. I hope to see you there!
I'll be speaking on Saturday on, and acting as the convener for, the Fan Service and Activism panel at 14:45. The title of my talk is "Even a Monkey can Understand Fan Activism: Bill 156 and the Dôjin Public." You'll hear why I'm starting to think that the "Manga Public" may be a better name for it if you attend.
If you're in the Cities, I hope to see you there!
The matching donation is particularly good for those of us in the fandom and Wikipedia communities who maybe don't have the kind of tech industry salaries that would allow us to give more generously. Thanks to Sumana and Leonard, the impact of what each of us can donate as individuals is doubled! Although you won't get the awesome Ada Lovelace pendant unless you contribute at least $128 (either one-time or monthly, which is only $12.80 per), every little bit--even $5--helps. I've donated under the matching contribution, and I hope you will too.
Main Argument: That the entirety of Tokugawa (samurai) intellectual thought can be traced via the introduction of the thesis of Zhu Xi Confucianism and its antithesis, the Sorai school, which in itself was succeeded by its antithesis, the kokugaku of Norinaga. These, combined with other elements, provided a new synthesis that gave birth to the intellectual movements backing up the rebellious young samurai of the bakumatsu period. (Yes, this is quite consciously put in Hegelian terms on my part, since Maruyama is uncritically Hegelian.)
Historiographical Engagement: Ostensibly with the writings of the scholars that he mentions, but mostly against Zhu Xi philosophy as understood in Japan, with the Sorai school, with kokugaku in the form of Norinaga, with Andô Shôeki, and with Fukuzawa Yukichi.
Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples Maruyama's introduction, written in 1974 for the English edition, begins by outlining the intellectual conditions of production for the individual essays (the three parts of this book) which appeared in Kokka Gakkai Zasshi from 1940 to 1944. These conditions included vigilant paranoia about one's words being misunderstood (or too clearly understood) by the special thought police (tokkô) and a brief outline of imperial scholarship on earlier eras of Japanese thought, beginning with the concern for theories of national morality (kokumin dôtokuron) [for greater history of these movements, see Andrew Barshay's The Social Sciences in Modern Japan]. Maruyama mentions his debt to Karl Mannheim's sociology of knowledge and says that in the first two essays, broadly speaking, he was trying to argue against the so-called Kyoto school of the "overcome by modernity" thinkers, specifically that 1) "contemporary Japan was still not so modernized that the 'overcoming of modernity' could conceivably be the greatest problem on the agenda" and that 2) "it was not true, as the glorifiers of tradition would have it, that there was an Oriental Spirit, quite alien to all concepts of 'modernity,' which was maintained intact and impervious to the vicissitudes of history" (xxxii). To his credit, at the end Maruyama correctly identifies two of the book's major problems, namely that the "evolutionary schema" of Neo-Confucianism he lays out does not "stand up to the historical evidence" and his assumption that Tokugawa Confucianism did not change at all in Japan (xxxv).
( Μεγα βιβλιον, μεγα κακον )
Critical assessment: When we discussed this book in seminar my professor remarked that it was the passing of an age in that we were largely anti-Maruyama. I accept that label; I think there are serious problems with Maruyama-dolatry, and I think that this book has serious problems, starting with the fact that this book is literally soaked in Hegelian thought patterns. I find the fact that Maruyama's entire argument rests upon a demonstrably partial understanding of the Chu Hsi school of philosophy and its context in the Tokugawa period mildly disturbing: if your argument isn't grounded in historical evidence, why don't we all just go home and get novel contracts? I'm mindful, of course, that the same criticism of partiality could be levied, mutatis mutandis, against some of my favorite works (such as Prasenjit Duara's Sovereignty and Authenticity), but I do think it's an important point to bear in mind when considering Maruyama. I also think we should bear in mind that people in Japan don't read this book anymore because it's mostly wrong about many important things, such as whether society was in "decline" in the Tokugawa period (hint: no). I think it's also worth mentioning that all the thinkers he investigates here, with the possible exception of Shôeki, were very much part of the feudal system in that they were all samurai. Tetsuo Najita's Osaka merchants would have very different things to say about the feudal order, as would the aristocrats of old Kyoto who were Japan's first historians.
My overarching complaint against him, however, is not that in his telling everything in modern Japan is always a tragedy conditioned by a lack (although it is; what is this, Nietzsche as badly rewritten through Freud?), but more fundamentally that Maruyama doesn't seem to want to confront the fact that, even in its anti-modern hypernationalism, Japan was irrefutably, un-overcomeably modern, through and through. This inability to acknowledge that fundamental paradox seems to have driven him to seek the roots of Japan's foreordained tragic defeat and the end of its empire in a particular intellectual strand of the "feudal" Tokugawa period. When you know what you're looking for in advance, it's easy to find it, particularly when you're willing to ignore inconvenient truths that could have provided strong counter-arguments. It may be that this aspect of the book was conditioned by the era in which the essays were originally written, but given Maruyama's introduction, which he wrote thirty years later, on balance it seems not.
I'm being, in my own way, as partial as I'm charging Maruyama is. It would be more charitable to say that the entire book is founded on a series of productive misreadings, particularly of the European intellectual tradition (my political theorist roommate's rant about Maruyama's misreadings of Hobbes could easily fill several paragraphs). More disturbing is the way that Maruyama wholesale appropriated the prejudices of his favorite writers such as Weber and applied them uncritically to the Japanese situation: the entire diatribe on the historical significance of the ascendancy of the chônin is transparently founded on second-hand anti-Semitism by way of Weber and his fellows, who tried desperately to find the roots of capitalism in good upright German Christians, not those nasty foreign usurious Jews. Maruyama's later airy anti-Semitic comment that the Sorai school was "like the Jews" almost doesn't deserve to be singled out in light of the larger underlying problems with his adaptation of the Weberian paradigm, but I'll be thorough for the sake of driving the point home.
Again, my point here is not even so much that this is objectionable (although it is) as that it should, I think, give us all an existential pause: if Maruyama, who was widely acknowledged as a genius in his own lifetime (note the translator's introduction to this volume, which basically implies that he can walk on water), couldn't get beyond the biases he inherited from his influences, what hope is there for the rest of us to be able to overcome (har) our intellectual forebears? My only thought for a way forward is that criticism of this type is the essential first step.
Further reading: Harootunian, Things Seen and Unseen: Discourse and Ideology in Tokugawa Nativism
Meta notes: 1. When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. 2. But the age of chivalry has ended. That of sophists, economists, and calculators has succeeded… 3. History is not always already a tragedy.
I've also been really pleased at the synergy occurring between one of The Ada Initiative's most successful projects, conference anti-harassment work, and increased attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment, and the need to fight it, in the SFF convention community. Well-publicized incidents of harassment at Readercon last year and Wiscon this year--and the fact that those incidents had visible, public consequences for the harassers in question--have highlighted the need for these sorts of policies at SFF cons, and how when policies are followed, as at Wiscon, it creates a safer atmosphere for everyone attending. I haven't tried to prove a direct connection between TAI and the increasing discussion and awareness of this issue in the SFF community, but given the number of geeky people who are involved in both organizations, I don't think it's a coincidence. TAI has been a leader in this since late 2010, and the spillover effect of these things is very real.
At AdaCamp SF I heard from a number of my fellow AdaCamp DC alumni what an absolutely transformative experience attending the unconference had been for them. I don't have the same sort of dramatic story about my involvement with TAI--I don't code, and I still haven't quit grad school for a tech startup in the West Bay--but TAI has definitely made a huge difference to me personally as a woman in open culture, and as a woman in a male-dominated field (namely, academia).
Sarah Sharp, one of my fellow AdaCamp attendees, has a great post about how attending AdaCamp has helped her recognize and combat impostor syndrome, the feeling that we just aren't good enough and are going to be found out as fakers that strikes many women in tech and, I suspect, in many other fields. Attending AdaCamp twice has definitely given me tools to combat impostor syndrome, and what I've learned there has also helped me get better at accepting compliments for work I've put in and stuff I've accomplished. The Ada Initiative's insistence on embracing open culture, ranging from fanworks to Wikimedia, has also helped me reframe my work with the OTW and my participation in fandom. Open culture initiatives like fandom and Wikipedia editing have just as much validity as open source and open technology, and The Ada Initiative's willingness to cross those streams is part of what makes AdaCamps, and TAI itself, so awesome.
You can check out the Ada Initiative's impostor syndrome training page if you haven't had the chance to attend an AdaCamp, and if a conference or convention you know of is in need of an anti-harassment policy, you can check out the example conference anti-harassment policy that Ada Initiative co-founders wrote with the help of the community. If you'd like a chance for other people (or yourself!) to attend an AdaCamp somewhere in the world in the future, or if you want to make cons a safer space for people of all genders, or if you just want a really awesome Ada Lovelace pendant, you should donate now so that the Ada Initiative can continue to support all these things. We've made more difference in the past two years than in the past ten, and we need your support to keep going at the level we have.
It took me nearly three books to realize that Augustine's central rhetorical strategy - and, to be fair, I do not doubt, his sincere belief - is his applying his notions of the purpose of religion and the nature of the human-divine relationship to an earlier age, and (unsurprisingly) finding the past wanting by his modern metrics. Namely, Augustine trots out innumerable examples of atrocities, misfortunes, wars and disturbances in Roman history in order to prove his contention that the Roman gods either don't care about their worshippers' misfortunes, don't exist, or are evil demons, in which case see above (which proposition he is advancing is also unclear). It is hard not to think that Augustine is willfully misunderstanding the nature of classical religion as a social institution, although (the work of Labeo not being extant) it may well be that, as the charges of the anti-Christian pagans concerning the sack of Rome in 410 CE seem to show, the entire society-wide conception of religion had already completely shifted by this point. Certainly any of the figures of Roman history whose unhappy fates he cites would have boggled at his (to them, doubtless, naive) conviction that gods are there to do something for their worshippers and that history shows divine purpose or plan. (Indeed, the Stoics and the Epicureans would have had a great deal, most of it scornful, to say on this point.)
Nonetheless, such is Augustine's conviction, and by the standards of his time - and, it must be said, of the later Church - his rhetoric is convincing as long as you accept his central premise, that there is a divine plan in history and that, furthermore, the events of history can be made to serve as evidence of a transcendent morality. Thus the dark night of paganism gives way to the fortunate dawn of Christ, and - although inscrutable - God's providence is certainly abroad in the world and being accomplished. If you do not share that conviction, his persistent presentation of the events of Roman history in the worst possible and most moralistic - if not obtuse - light quickly becomes tedious, to say the least.
I know a lot of people who are thinking of going, and I've also seen a lot of people asking if anyone knows anything about the people running the con. I actually do know two of the people who are running it, Lee and Lisa--I have known them for about five years now, since we first met at Schoolgirls and Mobilesuits in Minneapolis. We've continued to run into each other at SGMS and at Wiscon since then, and Lisa and I were actually on an anime and manga panel together at Wiscon at one point. They are married and they have a webcomic, Godseeker, and as far as I know they are pretty cool.
So, I hope to see you at KudosCon! Yes, it will be cold outside, but the love of fanworks will fill our hearts and keep us warm.
Herodotus gets a bad rep for being credulous, non-secular, and never having met a digression he didn't love, as well as for being too focused on individuals and overlooking larger patterns. (Indeed, I myself berated him for some of the latter in my last post, vis-a-vis his treatment of Themistokles.) To the extent that his narrative is overtly skeptical, secular in that he never acknowledges the possibility of divine agency in history, and much more tightly focused on the main plot of his story (though I should note that the doomed Sicilian expedition, in which the author himself played a notable part, constitutes a good 1/4 of the narrative), Thucydides is certainly Herodotus' opposite. But, as others have pointed out, both authors were highly concerned with warfare, and not just the constant low-level warfare that was a given in the Greek oikumene (in ancient Greek one declares peace treaties, not war) but the two central conflicts that made Athens into a hegemon and then destroyed her preeminence almost as quickly. Inasmuch as one can detect in both authors a longing for the vanished ideal Athens of old, they have more in common than is apparent at first glance.
I do want to return to the speeches, since now more than ever I find it useful to poke at Thucydides a bit in terms of his method here. Like Herodotus, Thucydides does not claim to report exactly what people said; rather, he claims, "my method has been, while keeping as closely as possible to the general sense of the words that were actually used, to make the speakers say what, in my opinion, was called for by each situation" (I.22). So we can no more excoriate Thucydides for inaccuracy than we can Herodotus, although Herodotus is the one who has frequently been accused of making things up out of whole cloth. It seems fairer to give both writers the benefit of the doubt, and proceed on the assumption that while both did their honest best to reconstruct what was said, the speeches are an excellent place to detect the author's own point of view. Essentially, then, given the differences in the scope of their subject matter and interests, it seems that Herodotus and Thucydides are much closer in terms of method than we might like to think. Furthermore, in terms of what they see as the purpose of writing history, given that Thucydides holds his cards closer to the chest, saying only that the Peloponnesian War "was more worth writing about than any of those which had taken place in the past" (I.1), it seems that their motivations may have actually been the same. Especially in light of the fact that no other ancient historians took up Thucydides' banner, it seems best to conclude that Thucydides and Herodotus are much more alike than different.
Breisach is correct that Herodotus certainly has an obvious Athenian bias, but the numerous statements in defense of liberty and (limited) democracy scattered throughout the whole work must be weighed in the historical context of Herodotus' own time, in which the Athenian empire was consolidating its hegemony over the Greek oikumene and both liberty and democracy must have looked much more uncertain than they did in the wars about which Herodotus chiefly wrote. The grand irony of Themistokles' speech at VIII.60 is that under his command the Greek armada did save Greece, only to have it fall under an Athenian tyranny. One suspects that Herodotus, as a native of Halicarnassus in Asia Minor, a city much closer to the Persian threat, must have felt the Athenian betrayal of their own ideals more keenly than some.
Themistokles undoubtedly shares in the retroactive blame for Athens, but comparing Herodotus' treatment of stories about his actions during and after the Battle of Salamis versus Xerxes' in the same circumstances, clear bias abounds: hearsay stories about Xerxes are evaluated and dismissed as such, while in Themistokles' case they are allowed to stand or even embellished upon. Clearly H. did not approve of Themistokles' decision to spend his exile in the Persian court, and had no compunction about bringing that disapproval into his inquiry. In this Breisach's assessment of him - namely, that H. is much more likely to find causes in human emotions, whereas Thucydides seeks structural factors to furnish explanations (15) - holds up well. To us, that even Athenian exiles would seek sanctuary in Persia seems normal given the geopolitical situation and social norms of the time; to Herodotus, in the case of Themistokles, it was an abject betrayal of his grand narrative about liberty versus tyranny, a symbol of the Athenian moral decline that led to the creation of the empire, and Themistokles' character and actions had to be made congruent with that.
I am, perhaps, overstating the case to make a point, and I should make clear that despite these reservations I find it quite appropriate to term H. the "father of history" - libeling one's subjects to make a point being merely another long-lived historical tradition which he clearly inaugurated. It's interesting, though, that he does combine an evident love of ethnography and linguistics (two other fields which, one suspects, he could plausibly be claimed to have spawned), he never makes a leap from social description to social history. All in all, I share the dissatisfaction with Breisach's claim that H. is focused on the commoners - although he may not be a monarchist, he is very much aristocratically focused, even if his aristocracy is not exclusively one of birth, but of actions and ideals.
Main Argument: Tonomura uses the most complete set of surviving village documents from the medieval period to explore the process of community formation in late medieval Japan, arguing that this process was natural and uncontested by proprietors (unlike in the West) and that village cooperatives provided fundamental patterns on which later Tokugawa social organization, as well as economic prosperity, was laid.
Historiographical Engagement: Tonomura is very well-versed in earlier Japanese historiography of the medieval period, most notably with Ishimoda Shô but reaching back at times into studies from as far back as the 1920s.
( Cooperation and community )
On some levels, it is difficult to decide whether Hitomi Tonomura's account of village cooperatives in Ômi Provnice represents a story without a hero or a hero without a story. Only when I reached the end of her study, and was forced to contemplate again its profound differences from more recent scholarship on the Edo and even medieval periods, that I realized that she has accomplished something much subtler if, perhaps, less superficially exciting than mere narrative.
Consider the map of the cosmological spatial order (Fig. 1) in medieval Imabori on page 69. A tour de force of cartography on one level, the map also functions as a diagram of the plan of the book as a whole: Tonomura starts by delineating the inner core of village life, where local and proprietary interests were most heavily concerned, and gradually moves out into less sacralized and correspondingly more contentious (and ambiguously delineated) spaces or zones of interest in which local people interacted with--and in the case of the Honai merchants, instigated disputes with--people from outside their area for commercial and personal gain. The map represents the book, and the book, in that respect, faithfully mirrors the structure of local society in medieval Japan, at least in this particular (not entirely typical) medieval village.
It's instructive to compare Tonomura's evaluation of the characteristics of the Tokugawa social order vis-a-vis the residents of the vanished Tokuchin-ho to the ebullient evaluations of the Edo period as "the age of movement par excellence" (to quote, somewhat unfairly, Laura Nenzi)--for Tonomura, the highwater mark of village autonomy and local empowerment comes sometime in the Warring States period, and the effects of increasing rationalization and centralization of power and authority in Japan on village life read as the aftermath of a golden age. She would, I think, be saddened to know that Yôkaichi merged with several other cities to form Higashi Ômi in 2005. Having read later studies, I cast something of a jaundiced eye on her claims at the end of the book regarding the "rigidity" of the Tokugawa social order. It certainly seems that the Tokugawa world was utterly rigid in terms of status; class and even geographic location, however, were another matter, especially as time went on and continuing economic growth eroded social strictures based on a late medieval economy. Tokugawa laws did not perfectly reflect Tokugawa social reality, which should come as no surprise (Tonomura's specific examples of social rigidity are also drawn from very early in the Edo period, which may be part of the reasoning behind her conclusions).
This is a rich, dense book that manages to make its points without much resort to overt argumentation. Indeed, my primary complaint lies in my wish that, rather than simply quoting other scholars and evaluating whether Tokuchin-ho matched their paradigms, Tonomura had dared to create a paradigm or two of her own. Perhaps, given her sensitive evaluation of her trove of documents, she didn't feel qualified to make such sweeping claims. Regardless, the book does make, and uphold, a series of claims about the experience of medieval social change at the local level that is broadly illuminating.
Further reading: William Wayne Farris, Japan's Medieval Population
Meta notes: Note to self: actually go to Sakamoto the next time you're in Kyoto.
Main Argument: Using a geographical perspective on history, Wigen makes three principal arguments: that "bringing more self-consciously geographical analysis to the study of Japanese development" is "needed if we are to put together a meaningful picture of Japanese development" (20, xiii); that "both before and during its passage to modernity, the spatial patterns of the Japanese economy were the products of complex social negotiations" (21); and that "the transformation of Shimoina confirms that spatial patterns are more than a passive projection of social process" (ibid). The successful peripheralization of Shimoina and many other places like it, and the re-harnessing and redirection of Tokugawa-period networks that this process entailed, are key to understanding Japan's swift rise to the status of an imperial power on the world stage.
Historiographical Engagement: With a lot of literature on protoindustrialization in the early modern period, as well as historical geography, i.e. DeVries and Braudel.
( A geographical revolution )
Critical assessment: This is an excellent, interesting, well-written book--"a gem," as professors in the department have described it to me. When we read Wigen's second book, A Malleable Map, for seminar last year, I was given the rather unenviable task of defending it in the face of a number of criticisms, not least being that this book is a stronger work than her more recent effort. Having now read this book, I think that it's very true that The Making of a Japanese Periphery is better, mostly because it is so beautifully constructed, its evidence laid out clearly and concretely. I found one of the best aspects of A Malleable Map to be Wigen's firm grasp of the fact that regions are constructed rather than made, and it's interesting to see in this book her application of that insight to a broader realm than the government/society interactions with which the second book is largely concerned. It's also interesting to note the places where her research in this book undoubtedly led her to start thinking about the questions that inform her second. And I continue to be highly gratified by her attention to the gender dynamics of social and economic power, as well as to the hierarchies of social power across time.
I am quite certain that Wigen is fundamentally correct when she argues that the peripheralization of Shimoina (and countless other comparable regions around Japan) enabled Japan to shrug off its own peripheral/non-participant status in the global economic and political order and become an imperial core, and I would have quite liked an entire other chapter expanding this argument, particularly her fascinating, throwaway assertion that contemporary China's inability to reconfigure its spatial hierarchies was part of its ultimate inability to retain state integrity. Of course, such a chapter would have been well outside the scope of the present study, which obviously deservedly won the Fairbank Prize in 1995.
Further reading: Jan DeVries, European Urbanization, 1500-1800; Fernand Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce; People and Production; William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England; Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West
Meta notes: On Earth as it is not in heaven, representing space temporally, or time spatially, is going to lead to some misrepresentations.
Main Argument: The human rights movement, rather than having roots stretching back at least to the Enlightenment, arose in the 1970s and is a minimalist moral utopia of antipolitics that ought to be superseded by non-globally minded movements within states.
Historiographical Engagement: Moyn trained as an intellectual and legal historian at Berkeley, and his sources are mostly philosophers, lawyers, and, in the 20thC, notable public thinkers such as Václav Havel and Malcolm X. Although he never mentions them, he is arguing against the school of human rights history loosely headed by Lynn Hunt and Gary Bass, which maintains precisely the opposite. In typological terms, he is of the revisionist school of human rights history.
( Utopia, which means no place… )
Critical assessment: It's difficult to overstate the problems I have with this book. (Granted, I would have problems with this book, as I am almost by default part of the Berkeley school of human rights history that Moyn has set himself against, neatly symbolized by the fact that Moyn doesn't mention Berkeley in his acknowledgments, despite the fact that he did his PhD here.) I not only think Moyn is wrong about the history of human rights but also that Moyn's practice in this book is profoundly anti-historical in the sense that several of his rhetorical moves seem to go against the very practices of the profession. For instance, Moyn's view of human rights is that its only "true" meaning is that of the 1970s--in other words, he denies even the possibility of change over time, which ought to be the historian's stock in trade. Another problem is his using the present to bludgeon people in the past for their supposed failures of imagination or for having the gall to think about human rights at a time when the time was out of joint, or "unpropitious" (42). If actual people in history thought that way, slavery would still be legal worldwide--I'm looking at you, William Wilberforce.
At times I felt like I was reading a book written by the reincarnation of Thomas More. Samuel Moyn hates utopias, though he never says why they are a priori bad, which adds another deeply frustrating layer to reading this book. Moyn is, in essence, articulating a deeply conservative vision in the Burkean tradition, and it's no surprise that the paperback edition has glowing blurbs from the Wall Street Journal and The National Interest. It's also just a weird read, because the entire book is leading up to a moment in the 1970s--May 1977, to be precise--that, once Moyn gets there, turns out to be a turning point that doesn't quite turn because the narrative doesn't go anywhere from there. The wave of the future breaks on the sand and the book loses its force, as Moyn has already spent the force of his argument denying things in earlier chapters.
The meat of my criticisms have been discussed in the chapter notes and above. Suffice it to say here that I question Moyn's constant equation of human rights with morality and with antipolitics (one of these things is not like the others), as well as his final assertion that "the last utopia cannot be a moral one" (227): why not? And how does the extreme teleology of Moyn's arguments negate what he sees as the teleology of "deep histories" of human rights?
Further reading: Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
Meta notes: Principis obsta. Finem respice. The age of chivalry is dead. That of sophists, economists, and calculators has succeeded…
Main Argument: Demographic data from a pseudonymous village in Tokugawa Japan strongly indicate that villagers routinely practiced fairly rigorous family planning, including infanticide, as a means of maximizing the family's economic potential as a corporate unit. Japan's modern prosperity, therefore, had premodern roots in that its low premodern birth rate positioned the country well for industrialization, comparable to many regions of western Europe.
Historiographical Engagement: Arguing against the mostly unnamed previous generations whose habits of thought were in service to their preconceived notions, not struggling against them.
( In which the Edo period is not a dystopia )
Critical assessment: It's something of an odd experience to read a book whose conclusions are so fundamental to your previous education that it can be a shock to remember that those conclusions once had to be proven. This is probably the most enjoyable book I've read about historical demography in a long time, if not ever, and I really appreciated getting to watch Thomas C. Smith strike a serious blow against the classism of modernization and development theory.
Indeed, it's a tribute to Smith and his co-authors that the work here is now fundamental to our understanding of Tokugawa Japan and--as my copy of The Great Divergence attests--to our understanding of Asian history as a whole. For all that his conclusions are revisionist, if not revolutionary, I also appreciated, as always, the economy and grace of Smith's prose as well as his punctilious refusal to make more assertions than he can prove, a trait not shared by all scholars. This is, on the whole, a brilliant little book.
I do wonder, however, why Smith et al. felt the need to give "Nakahara" a pseudonym. Reading what he writes about the town and five minutes on Google maps reveals that it's almost certainly modern Wanouchi in Gifu city. Their reason for doing so is almost the only thing left unclear in the entire text.
Further reading: Farris; Hanley and Yamamura
Meta notes: It's amazing how far not being classist and presentist can get historical inquiry. Or not.
Main Argument: Ramsay calls for an "algorithmic criticism" that "seeks, in the narrowing forces of constraint embodied and instantiated in the strictures of programming, an analogue to the liberating potentialities of art. … It proposes that we channel the heightened objectivity made possible by the machine into the cultivation of those heightened subjectivities necessary for critical work" (x). Furthermore, Ramsay argues, "scientific method and metaphor (or, more precisely, the uses of these notions within the distorted epistemology we call 'scientism') is, for the most part, incompatible with the terms of humanistic endeavor" (ibid).
( Textual formations and deformations )
Critical assessment: This little book is a thought-provoking read and a good introduction to the digital humanities. I read it as part of my work with Prof. Gail de Kosnik on internet and fandom history last summer, and it's no accident that many of Ramsay's conclusions about digital humanities inquiry are ones we learned, so to speak, in our own bodies: first and foremost, the data by themselves are not sufficient to tell the story.
Further reading: Neal Stephenson, Anathem; Alfred Jarry, Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician; Lucretius, De Rerum Natura; the I Ching
Meta notes: "If code represents a radical form of textuality, it is not merely because of what it allows us to do but also because of the way it allows us to think" (66).
Main Argument: Farris applies (then) modern demographic techniques to surviving records from classical Japan to argue against some now hopelessly out of date ideas about the ritsuryô period, i.e. when the Yamato state borrowed structures from Tang China and instituted a number of centralizing reforms, as well as the ideal of government, and provincial division, that existed at least until the 20thC. Applying statistical methodology to surviving demographic data (which are relatively plentiful, if objectively not unproblematic) and linking population, land and disease as interdependent explanatory factors sheds a powerful new light on the events of early Japanese history and shows that there was not sustained population growth in the classical era.
Historiographical Engagement: William McNeill, Plagues and Peoples; various Japanese and Western historians
Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples Farris' central contention is that a) the introduction of rice farming allowed the economy to grow to such an extent that social classes, and eventually primitive forms of political organization, appeared in Japan at the end of the yayoi period, and that by the beginning of the ritsuryô period in 645 CE, Japan's population was somewhere between 3 and 5.5 million people; b) that Emperors Tenmu and Jito were the primary architects of the ritsuryô state, introducing a number of policies that were brought to fruition by Jitô during her sole reign (Japan's first systematic law codes, population registration, tax collection, state land allocation, and the construction of Japan's first Chinese-style capital, Fujiwara), for which she was the first sovereign to be hailed as tennô in her lifetime; c) the adumbration of the Taihô codes, which subordinated the imperial house to the council of state and returned broad powers of administration to provincial governors, had as their aim the control of commoners.
( Smallpox strikes again )
Critical assessment: Despite a rather workmanlike title, Population, Disease, and Land in Early Japan, 645-900 presents an unabashedly revisionist picture of the ritsuryô state that not only still holds water but is, in many of its details, still fresh and relevant. To be blunt, the nuanced portrait of the fortunes and policy of the Yamato polity that Farris offers is by no means patent among scholars on either side of the Pacific.
I would contest the characterization of Farris' prose as "lifeless;" the text genuinely held my interest throughout, which is no mean achievement for a study so closely tied to a very small set of data that have been lovingly massaged with statistical techniques. If anything, I found the initial framing of his study somewhat mushy, but by the middle of the book I not only could grasp where he was growing, but agreed with his presentation of his evidence and his conclusions therefrom.
In comparison with John Whitney Hall, Farris has the benefit of an additional twenty years' worth of intensive scholarship under his belt, particularly in the area of mokkan, the wooden proclamations which the ritsuryô state so loved to issue. (Aside: are mokkan classified as a form of epigraphy?) Unlike some other ancient historians, however, Farris does not make the mistake of privileging any one form of evidence over the others; instead, he uses his data to build a larger story, a story that is ultimately about the rise and fall of the ritsuryô state.
I could wish that this ur-narrative were more explicitly brought out in the text, and I take the point that there is more than a whiff of determinism about the way Farris frames his narrative, a whiff that does sharpen the enigma of the mid- to late Heian period: what was it that allowed the country to escape the demographic trap that Farris illuminates, if not explains? The answer is beyond Farris' scope, but it does leave one wondering. One also wonders whether, if he were writing this book now, Farris would be so quick to take William McNeill as a guide, given that McNeill's conclusions (though not his overall argument, namely that diseases affect human history) have been criticized since the publication of his book. Still, the McNeillian analysis of the transformative role that smallpox played in the eighth century (even to the point of, arguably, contributing to the informal disbarment of women from the throne and the transfer of the capital from Nara!) is one of the strongest parts of the book, and an object lesson in the power that this sort of demographic-centered historiography can have.
Further reading: Farris, Japan's Medieval Population: Famine, Fertility, and Warfare in a Transformative Age
Meta notes: Empress Jitô was awesome, and you should laugh in the face of the sexist haters who try to tell you otherwise. Cornelius J. Kiley, I'm looking at you.
Main Argument: Gordon argues that, rather than seeing a movement for "Taishô democracy" that began in 1905 and climaxed in 1918 (though mass male suffrage was not achieved until 1925), paying attention to "the history of workers, the urban poor, and the urban crowd" (2) shows that the movement for democratization in early 20thC Japan is better understood as what Gordon terms "imperial democracy," and that this movement "grew out of a profound transformation of society" (2-3) that was not limited to the urban bourgeoise.
Historiographical Engagement: Gordon is engaging with and arguing against the Japanese historiography of Taishô democracy. Although some Western scholars are cited in the footnotes, the fact that at the time most Western historians did not take the democracy movement in prewar 20thC Japan seriously means that Gordon does not have much to discuss with them.
( Long notes on a pivotal era )
Critical assessment: Gordon is essentially telling a story of a tripod structure (workers and their parties, the elites and their parties, and the bureaucracy)--and we should remember from Dune the mentat's dictum that a tripod is the most unstable of political structures. Gordon's problem, though, is that in his telling the bureaucracy is MIA in the second part of the book, which profoundly unbalances the work as a whole and makes the bureaucracy's central role in the third part seem to come out of nowhere. Despite this structural weakness, I think Gordon's framework of "imperial democracy" and his criticisms of "Taishô democracy" are both essentially sound.
I've previously read Gordon's history of modern Japan and his book on postwar labor, and despite Gordon's self-deprecating comments in the latter about wanting to write a book that his family could read and understand, one of the things I appreciated most about the volume in question right off the bat is how very readable it is. Gordon writes astonishingly well, and he makes his arguments forcefully but not stridently. I should pay attention.
I'm less bothered than most by quibbles about why Gordon chose Nankatsu or his - sensible, I think - refusal to get bogged down in the nitpicky definitionism that has hobbled historiography of earlier eras. Indeed, I think the central strength of this book - and the reason it deservedly won the (ironically named in this case) Fairbank Prize - is Gordon's willingness to look beyond the narrow confines of his subject and see how the Tokyo mobility, workers in Tokyo and throughout Japan, and finally elites of all stripes interacted together in a complex cauldron of forces to produce first imperial democracy and then imperial fascism. The point of this book is not actually about labor or economic history per se; it's about how those two forces, and the vectors they produced in society as a whole, drove the political history of imperial Japan. Missing that aspect of the story is deeply problematic.
I appreciated too Gordon's willingness to justifiably castigate espousers of nominalism and impact-response theory, who would deny Japan its place among fascist countries of the 1930s and 1940s and think that only outside forces can get Japan to do anything. It occurred to me while reading that, in addition to being historiographically untenable and deeply biased, the refusal to call a spade a spade in the case of Japanese fascism actually blunts the analytical usefulness of that concept, since Japanese democracy was vitiated and the country turned fascist without a charismatic maniac, unlike Germany and Italy. If it's that easy, we should all be more attentive to how and why imperial fascism was produced, not less.
My sense is that the dial on this question has moved somewhat since Gordon wrote this book, and I would guess that Labor and Imperial Democracy in Prewar Japan is itself a large part of the reason why that is. The question of fascism remains, I think, one of the most vexed for the academy as a whole - witness the abandon with which some giants in the field of Japanese history threw the term around during the Bush years - and Gordon's approach offers a nice corrective to that sort of willy-nilly approach. All in all, this is an excellent book, and deservedly a classic.
Further reading: E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class
Meta notes: Thompson's Luddite workers are an anomaly, not a prototype.
I drafted the text of the blog post, which puts things much more eloquently than I can at the moment, but here in my own space I can admit to taking a large amount of personal satisfaction in this. I was a founding staffer of the Internationalization & Outreach committee (then International Outreach) when it was created under Julia Beck in 2010, and this was one of our earliest projects. Complications arose, ensued, were overcome, and along the way I became the last of the original I&O staffers on the committee, but we didn't restart work on the getting the Statement live on the Archive until the middle of last year. Now that it is part of Archive policy, I feel like I can retire as Chair with my head held high.