Project Parameters

Students will prepare an image-driven presentation on a subject of their own choosing within the general parameters of "Asia in the modern world." The subject must be approved by the instructors ahead of time. Here are a number of things to keep in mind:

"Asia" in this case refers to East Asia (China, Japan, Korea) and Southeast Asia.

  • The "modern world" means the 19th and 20th centuries, and calls attention to (1) the period of close contracts between Asia and the Western powers; and (2) the revolutions in communication and visual representation that accompanied this. In general, topics up to the 1970s are acceptable. In the case of China, this means the early decades of the post-1949 People's Republic of China; in the case of Japan, it means the first several "postwar" decades following Japan's defeat in 1945.
  • All presentations must be image-driven, in the manner of the Visualizing Cultures units. That is, the graphics are not simply "illustrations" of a textual narrative. Rather, they drive the analysis and provide new historical insights that words alone do not provide.
  • At the same time, presentations must rest on a firm general knowledge of the subject. The best treatments will usually include pertinent quotations and the like from primary resources like old magazines and books.
  • Layout and formatting are important. The graphics must be interwoven with the textual analysis [and not placed all together at the end]. To make this integration as smooth as possible, avoid stiff phrases like "In the illustration below," "in the next illustration we see," etc.
  • There are several things to keep in mind in the presentation of the graphics. Juxtaposing images can sharpen the thematic points you wish to make. So can zeroing-in on, and enlarging, details. Where the graphics are in color, please try to reproduce the color in the hardcopies you submit.
  • Captioning is important. All images should be captioned with basic metadata (title, source, date, etc.). A brief additional line or two is sometimes helpful in highlighting what is going on in the image. Captions should be set off from text proper by rendering them in italics.
  • Where the graphics contain foreign languages (like Chinese or Japanese]), this should be translated as fully as possible in the caption.
  • Full sourcing of the graphics is required. This means accurate URL for images taken from online, and full citations for images taken from books or magazines. All final projects should include a bibliography at the end.
  • For research assistance, do not hesitate to consult with the research librarians in the Humanities Library in building 14-N who gave a presentation to the class: Michelle Baildon & Jolene De Verges.

Possible Image Sources

It is desirable to identify one or a few basic sources of images that provide a good database for your chosen subject. Such sources may be accessible in a variety of forms:

  • One or a few illustrated books on a particular subject (like the Russo-Japanese War). Many interesting old illustrated books dealing with Asia are now accessible as e-books. Others can be located in the stacks or rare-book rooms of libraries—or, if not left to the last minute, can be brought in on interlibrary loan.
  • Treatment of a particular subject in one or several illustrated periodicals (like Illustrated London News, Harper's Weekly, Puck, Punch, Life, etc.)
  • Subject-oriented online archival collections in any number of major libraries or repositories (like the Library of Congress, National Archives, and most major universities). The MIT librarians may be especially helpful here.
  • Museum databases searchable by "subject."
  • Searches on "Wikipedia Images" and "Google Images" can lead to a wide range of graphics on a single topic (like the Opium War in China). The "results" turned up by such searches tend to be gigantic in number and increasingly chaotic and irrelevant in content, but Wikipedia Images in particular often is very useful as a starting point.
  • Visually oriented topical websites may include extensive databases.
  • Visually oriented foreign-language websites [especially Chinese and Japanese] should be explored by those with the skills to do so.

Possible Final Projects

The range of possible topics is almost limitless, and it obviously is essential that the subject be sharply focused and manageable. The list that follows focuses mostly on China and Japan, and is merely suggestive:

  • A sample of illustrated 19th and early 20th-century English-language travel books about Asia. (This permits interweaving graphics and quotations from the authors.)
  • "Japonism"/"Japonisme"—that is, mid-19th and early-20th-century Japanese aesthetic influences in the West.
  • "Chinoiserie"—that is, Chinese aesthetic influences in the modern West (especially in the 19th and 20th century, though this vogue begins earlier).
  • The "Madame Butterfly" vogue of an exotic and eroticized Asia. "Yellow Peril" imagery in the U.S. and Europe.
  • Hollywood's portrayal of Asians.
  • The 19th-century tea trade (including advertisements)
  • The 19th-century silk trade.
  • The Second Opium War. VC has already covered the First Opium War
  • Destruction of the Yuanmingyuan (often mistakenly called the Summer Palace) by British and French forces in 1860.
  • The "scramble for concessions" in turn-of-the-century China.
  • Case study of one or some of the densely illustrated photo books of the Russo-Japanese War. [We can provide these
  • U.S. postcards of the Russo-Japanese War (these inexplicably are not included in the Lauder postcard collection that is the basis of the VC "Yellow Promise / Yellow Peril" unit).
  • The Kanto Earthquake of 1923—which destroyed most of Yokohama and Tokyo and killed over 100,000 people.
  • Consumer culture in Japan / China / Korea after World War One and the Kanto earthquake.
  • The "modern woman" in China / Japan / Korea. The Lauder postcard collection at the MFA is strong on this—and on "modernity" and "cosmopolitanism" in early 20th-century Japan in general. For China, there are runs of women's magazines online.
  • The ero-guro-nansensu vogue in interwar Japan (erotic / grotesque / nonsensical. This would require using illustrated Japanese-language books possessed by VC).
  • Proletarian posters in prewar Japan. (Easily accessible through a huge database put online by Hosei University's Ohara Shakai Mondai Kenkyujo, with English captions and texts.)
  • Proletarian posters in early postwar Japan. (Also on the Ohara site.)
  • Comparison of Western (or just U.S.) media depictions of Chinese and Japanese during a given period-like the 1920s, or 1930s, or after Japan's invasion of China in 1937—or after the establishment of the PRC in 1949, when the positive/negative stereotypes became reversed.
  • Patriotic Chinese posters during the war against Japan, 1937–1945. (This would have to come from Chinese sources.)
  • Western cartoons about the establishment of the PRC in 1949.
  • Proletarian art in the early decades of the PRC.
  • Japan's seizure of Korea in 1905–1910.
  • Some aspect of Japanese colonial rule in Korea.
  • Some aspect of European colonial rule in Southeast Asia.
  • Some aspect of U.S. colonial rule in the Philippines.
  • Aspects of World War Two in Asia (a huge subject that will require narrowing down):
    • Commemorative war sites in different countries ("war and memory)
    • Propaganda and war art [including posters] in various countries
    • Wartime cartoons in various countries
  • Controversial subjects currently censored in the PRC:
    • The Great Famine of 1958–1961.
    • The Cultural Revolution, 1966–1976
    • Suppression of the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989

NOTE: Notorious events, crimes, and horrors—such as the Rape of Nanking, Pearl Harbor, Bataan Death March, "comfort women" forced to sexually service Japanese forces, firebombing of Japanese cities and use of the atomic bombs, celebrated battles, etc.—are probably not good class projects, since the graphics have already been extensively assembled and examined by others. But students who wish to work in this area should not hesitate to discuss their concrete proposals with the instructors.

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