Unit 2: Origins of Empire
Historians are often quite concerned with origins. One reason for this fascination lies with the chronological character of our field. Very simply: we’re lost without a place to start our story. Of course, this class is no different, and so this unit is about searching for a beginning. We start off with a brief glimpse of the Tokugawa era (1603–1868) to provide context to the tumultuous period that follows. While Western contact was only one factor driving the Meiji Restoration in 1868, it will draw most of our attention due its implications for Japan’s relations not only with the West, but also its neighbors. The next few classes will then be dedicated to the revolutionary changes in Japanese politics, society, and culture, giving special attention to Meiji Japan’s evolving system of education.
Unless otherwise noted, items listed under each day should be completed before the class it is assigned. For example, on day 2 (a Friday), the assignment listed should be completed before class on Friday.
Day 1 (Fri 9/16): Late Tokugawa era
Day 2 (Mon 9/19): Challenge from the West
- (1) Read Huffman, 5-10
- (2) Read Aizawa Seishisai on the “Danger from the West” (1825)
- (3) Read Yokoi Shōnan, “Enriching the Country” (1860)
Day 3 (Wed 9/21): Meiji Restoration
- Read Huffman, 11-top of 16
- View video: “The Meiji Revolution” (parts 1, 2, and most of 3, ±40 minutes). See embedded YouTube links, below.
Day 4 (Thu 9/22): Education in Meiji Japan
- Read Saburō Ienaga, “Thought Control and Indoctrination” in The Pacific War (Pantheon, 1978), 13-33.
- Consider the following questions for discussion:
- How does Ienaga characterize the Meiji state’s approach to ideas and information? Identify a law or regulation and explain why it is representative of this approach.
- What does the author believe is the result of these policies? Based on the evidence presented, do you find his argument convincing? Why or why not?
- How did Meiji education policies change over time? What role did the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education play in these shifts?
- Explain how the military came to influence school curriculum. What values did this influence aim to instill? How might these values be similar or different to the education you received?
- What did Japanese schoolchildren learn about China? What, according to Ienaga, was the impact of this education?
Day 5 (Fri 9/23): Unit 2 Assessment
- To prepare for our unit assessment, please review your notes on the week's homework assignments.