Timing the Textbook: Capitalism, Development, and Western Knowledge in the Nineteenth-Century

Circa 1835, following a survey of recent Dutch publications in shogunal collections, the Japanese physician Koseki San’ei (1787–1839) concluded that among the strengths of new European approaches to education, a proactive attitude toward the power of cheap pedagogical print was paramount. European countries, Koseki declared, “produce affordable and easy-to-understand books on all arts and sciences, give them to impoverished scholars, and by doing so verse them in the arts and sciences.” “It is through this,” he maintained, “that they foster talent.”[1] Continue reading “Timing the Textbook: Capitalism, Development, and Western Knowledge in the Nineteenth-Century”

The Text as Fieldwork: The Book of Nature in Early Modern Japan

In early modern Japan, the study of nature, known at the time as honzōgaku, was primarily a bookish enterprise. The work of scholars who studied rocks and minerals, herbs and plants, flowers and trees, insects and fish, birds and animals—or, as they collectively called them, “myriads of things” (banbutsu) or “herbs-trees-birds-beasts-insects-fish-metals-jewels-grounds-stones” (sōmokukinjūchūgyokingyokudoseki)—began and ended with books. Canonical encyclopedias like Li Shizhen’s Bencao gangmu (Honzō kōmoku in Japanese editions) and Kaibara Ekiken’s Yamato honzō served not only as foundations of scholars’ research and repositories of institutional knowledge but also as the ultimate source of legitimation for their claims on nomenclature, taxonomy, morphology, and aspect as well as for the pharmacological, gastronomical, agricultural, and aesthetic use of plants and animals. Continue reading “The Text as Fieldwork: The Book of Nature in Early Modern Japan”

Knowledge and Interwar German-Japanese Relations

Ricky Law, “Knowledge is Power: The Interwar German and Japanese Mass Media in the Making of the Axis,” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute  54 (Spring 2014): 27–46.

Ricky Law, who won the Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize in 2013, investigates the role of the interwar German and Japanese mass media in preparing the ground for the Axis by studying the portrayal of Japan in German newspapers, motion pictures, and nonfiction as well as the depiction of Germany in Japanese dailies, lectures and pamphlets, nonfiction, and language textbooks. Law goes beyond cultural history, however, to consider how knowledge was acquired, translated, and disseminated, including the roles played by pundits and voluntary associations.