East Asian History and Culture Seminar

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So far the timing of our seminars has coincided remarkably well with the pacing of my Advance Placement World History course. The Monday after our first seminar, I was scheduled to lecture about Qing China and Tokugawa Japan; last Monday I had already planned to cover the Meiji Restoration. The more I learn about East Asia, the more the pieces of the global history puzzle fall into place for me, and I know my World History students are benefitting.

One of the major connections that I made in the last seminar was spurred by The Meiji Revolution film. The alliance between Germany and Japan in World War II had always struck me as strange. Most history textbooks note that it happens, but spend very little time exploring any connection between Germany and Japan prior to the Second World War. Without that information, Japan reaching halfway around to the world for an ally like an historical anomaly. However, when The Meiji Revolution noted that Ito, the first Prime Minister of Meiji Japan, idolized Otto von Bismarck, the unifier of Germany, I started to see the roots of the ideological connections which would bring the two countries together a quarter century later.

I was also very interested in The Meiji Revolution’s discussion of turn of the century Japanese literature. One of the reasons I wanted to participate in the East Asian History and Culture Seminar was to learn more about East Asian literature that I could include in my Advanced Placement English Literature course. I am looking forward to reading Kokuro by Soseki, particularly since the themes of isolation and loneliness are so prevalent in 20th Century Western literature too. When the film mentioned the main character of Kokuro feeling most alone on a train ...

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... prejudice against any sort of monarchy colored my intellectual vision and kept me from thinking about China in those terms. I have often lamented the fact that so many of America’s leaders have been drawn not from the best and the brightest, but from the best connected and most ambitious; I have often thought that our government would work better if merit and aptitude had more say in who ran the country. It seemed to work for the Chinese for a few thousand years, so maybe we Americans could give it a try.

I have made so many connections in the seminar so far that I am sorry we have only one more weekend to go. Being back in the student’s chair rather than the instructor’s has been very enjoyable, and I am strongly considering beginning a Master’s program, in so small part because of my excellent experiences here in the East Asian History and Culture Seminar.
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