Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This course examines visual representations of Asia in the modern world, with particular focus on Japan and China from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Individual final projects may extend to other areas of modern Asia. The graphic case studies in MIT's online "Visualizing Cultures" project provide a model and baseline for the approach taken. (Learn more about Visualizing Cultures…)

"Images and representations" refers primarily to visual materials in a range of genres—prints, engravings, photographs, fine art, commercial art, propaganda, postcards, cartoons, films, etc. These graphics may involve depictions of one's own culture or society, as well as renderings of other nations and peoples [such as Western images of Asians]. The visuals on the "Visualizing Cultures" website come from Japan, China, the United States, and Europe; they tap a wide variety of media, and cover a very broad range of historical developments and topical subjects. Visual images, in a word, are being treated here as "texts" that complement the written records of the past and—when skillfully combined with written sources—can open new vistas in our understanding of the modern encounter of "Asia" and "the West."

"Visual history" of this sort has been enormously enhanced by the digital revolution, and authors of some of the VC units will make guest presentations in person or via videolink to talk about their innovative work and suggest subjects and sources that remain to be explored. At the same time, class assignments initially based on VC units are designed to lead students through some of the technical as well as conceptual challenges of identifying pertinent images, analyzing and organizing them into coherent themes, integrating them into a cohesive written presentation that is driven by the images, and formatting this presentation with optimal elegance. Following three written assignments, students will submit a final original project on a subject of their own choosing.

There is no final examination.

Writing and Speaking Assignments for a Communications Intensive Course

Communications Intensive Subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences require at least 20 double-spaced pages of writing divided among a number of assignments, at least one of which is revised and resubmitted. [The illustrations that will constitute a major feature of the assignments do not count as "writing."] Following an initial required exercise, this class requires four written assignments—the second of which will be graded and returned to you for revision.

HASS-CI subjects also offer substantial opportunity for oral expression through class discussion and individual presentations. In addition to participating in discussions of the assignments, each student will make three formal presentations which will receive written feedback and be graded.

Online Readings for Basic Historical Background

For general background in the history of modern Asia, within the first two weeks of the class all students should read the following entries in the online Encyclopedia Britannica and on Wikipedia:

  1. Britannica Online Encyclopedia: China. Read "History" section from "The early Qing dynasty" up to "Establishment of the People's Republic"
  2. Britannica Online Encyclopedia: Korea. Read "History" section from "Contact with world powers" through "The Korean War"
  3. Britannica Online Encyclopedia: Southeast Asia. Read "Patterns of a Colonial Age" section
  4. Wikipedia entry on Imperialism in Asia This prints out to 19 pages, and like all Wikipedia entries includes cross-links.

NOTE: Wikipedia should be used with care, but it is a generally sound and unusually convenient point of departure for investigating topics large and small. When exploring specific subjects [for example, the "Opium Wars" of 1839–1842 and 1857–1860], Wikipedia usually provides useful footnotes as well as valuable primary sources published at the time; many of the latter are now accessible as e-books. Historical entries on broad subjects also commonly cross-link to related Wikipedia entries on sub-sets of the general entry. ["Opium Wars," for example, leads to multiple other entries on specific battles and developments.]…. Students also should take particular note of the databases of historical images accessible through Wikimedia Commons. This is a valuable place to initiate searches for topical "images." For example, a search for "Opium Wars" pulls up over 180 results, including single images plus links to other groupings of images. All images show basic metadata when enlarged, and most images are in the public domain [that is the meaning of "commons" in this case]. Browsing Wikimedia Commons is instructive as an introduction to how many basic historical graphics are now accessible online.

Attendance & Class Participation

Attendance is part of class participation. If you cannot attend, you should let the instructors know ahead of time.


Late assignments will be penalized as follows: 5 points [out of a possible 100] per day up to three days after the due date/time. No assignments will be accepted after three days. If there are extraordinary circumstances that make it impossible for you to turn in an assignment on time, discuss it with the instructors at least three working days prior to the deadline; otherwise late assignments will be penalized as noted.

Grading of Written Work

The assignments in "Asia in the Modern World" are unique in that they require integration of visual materials of a historic nature with an analytical narrative text. The visuals are not simply "illustrations" of what is discussed in the analysis. Rather, the images must be regarded as original "texts" in themselves, and should drive the analysis. The graphics also should be accompanied, where appropriate, by instructive captions beyond simple metadata. Written assignments will be graded with the following criteria in mind:

  • Fluent integration of images and narrative. This involves not only the effectiveness of the graphics selected, but also how they are presented and how they are combined with other historical resources [like primary written texts from the time]. In short, how well does the presentation integrate visual and written evidence?
  • Argument. Is there a coherent and original thesis clearly stated at the outset and logically developed throughout the presentation?
  • Style. How well is the paper written? How imaginatively are the visuals presented—in terms of placement, juxtapositions, highlighted details, etc. Naturally, all presentations should be carefully proofread.

Oral Presentations

Oral presentations will be based on the assignments, and will involve Power Point presentation of the pertinent graphics plus thematic bullet-points or other appropriate text. Grading will address the following criteria:

  • Organization. Since these presentations are relatively short, they must be make thematic points logically and concisely.
  • Communication skill. Students must take care to speak clearly.
  • Response to questions from the class. Again, these should be clear and concise.


First Assignment 10
Second Assignment: Written 15
Second Assignment: Oral 5
Third Assignment: Written 15
Third Assignment: Oral 5
Final Project: Written 30
Final Project: Oral 10
Class Participation 10


1 Introduction to the Course  
2 Asia in the Modern World  
3 Japan in the Modern World  
4 China in the Modern World  
5 Visualizing Asia in the Modern World: Resources & Topics Guest Speakers: Michelle Baildon and Jolene De Verges, MIT Libraries
6 Black Ships & Samurai  
7 Black Ship Scroll and Universals of Culture Assignment 1 due
8 Asia in the Age of Imperialism: the Russo-Japanese War  
9 Asia in the Age of Imperialism: Multiple Perspectives on Japan's Emergence as an Imperialist Power Tentative topic for Assignment 2 due
10 Student Presentations Assignment 2 due
11 Student Presentations (cont.) Student presentations based on Assignment 2
12 The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 Guest Speaker: Ellen Sebring, Visualizing Culture
13 The Boxer Rebellion (cont.) Revision of Assignment 2 due Class discussion on Assignment 3
14 Presentations: Tentative Topics Presentation of tentative topic for Boxer Rebellion project.
15 Individual Consultations: the Boxer Rebellion  
16 Presentations: the Boxer Rebellion Student presentations Assignment 3 due
17 Presentations: the Boxer Rebellion (cont.)  
18 Curating a Museum Exhibit Guest Speaker: Anne Morse, Boston MFA
19 Photography Guest Speaker: Allen Hockley, Dartmouth
20 The Golden Era of Cartoon Art: China Guest Speaker: John Crespi, Colgate University
21 Presentations: Final Project Topics Final project outline due
22 The April 2006 Controversy About Visualizing Cultures  
23 NO CLASS: Individual consultations with instructors on Final Project  
24 Presentations  
25 Presentations (cont.) Final projects due
26 Presentations (cont.)