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Harvard University

Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity

Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology via edX


This course is taught by MIT, Harvard, and Duke historians, and was developed in a first-time collaboration between HarvardX and MITx. Japanese history is seen in a new way through the images made by those who were there. You will examine the skills and questions in reading history through archival images now in the digital realm.

The course looks at the methodologies historians use to “visualize” the past, the themes of Westernization, in Commodore Perry’s 1853-54 expedition to Japan; social protest, in Tokyo’s 1905 Hibiya Riot; and modernity, as seen in the archives of the major Japanese cosmetics company, Shiseido.

  • Introduction: New Historical Sources for a Digital Age (Professors Dower, Gordon, Miyagawa). Digitization has dramatically altered historians' access to primary sources, making large databases of the visual record readily accessible. How is historical methodology changing in response to this seismic shift? How can scholars, students, and the general public make optimal use of these new digital resources?
  • Module 1: Black Ships & Samurai (Professor Dower). Commodore Matthew Perry's 1853-54 expedition to force Japan to open its doors to the outside world is an extraordinary moment to look at by examining and comparing the visual representations left to us by both the American and Japanese sides of this encounter. This module also addresses the rapid Westernization undertaken by Japan in the half century following the Perry mission.

  • Module 2: Social Protest in Imperial Japan: The Hibiya Riot of 1905 (Professor Gordon). The dramatic daily reports from participants in the massive "Hibiya Riot" in 1905, the first major social protest in the age of "imperial democracy" in Japan, offer a vivid and fresh perspective on the contentious domestic politics of an emerging imperial power.

  • Module 3: Modernity in Interwar Japan: Shiseido & Consumer Culture (Professor Weisenfeld, with Professors Gordon and Dower). Exploring the vast archives of the Shiseido cosmetics company opens a fascinating window on the emergence of consumer culture, modern roles for women, and global cosmopolitanism from the 'teens through the 1920s and even into the era of Japanese militarism and aggression in the 1930s.

Other Visualizing Cultures courses you may be interested in: Visualizing the Birth of Modern Tokyo (VTx) and Visualizing Imperialism and the Philippines (VPx).

Taught by

John W. Dower, Andrew Gordon, Shigeru Miyagawa and Gennifer Weisenfeld


4.8 rating, based on 10 Class Central reviews

Start your review of Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity

  • Profile image for Cleber Nascimento
    Cleber Nascimento
    A história do Japão (em japonês: 日本の歴史 ou 日本史 Nihon no rekishi / Nihonshi?) é a sequência de eventos ocorridos no arquipélago japonês, com o surgimento de factos únicos influenciados pela sua natureza geográfica enquanto nação insular, assim como po…
  • Great course! I learned a lot about methods of working with visual culture in general and Japan visual culture in particular.
    Highly recommend even if you are not primarily interested in the course topic! This course is so good structured and well-planned that you will enjoy it like a great story anyway.
  • Anonymous
    This course gives insight in the modernisation of Japan after the 200 years of seclusion. It's history is fascinating and different than I expected and it is told by using images rather than text. You learn to read these images and appreciate them and they offer a window through time. Teachers are great (Professors Dower, Gordon and Miyagawa).
  • Profile image for Irene Borgatti
    Irene Borgatti
    This course might seem easy, but if you're pursuing the paid certificate, which is what I did, it gets surprisingly intensive! Overall, through this course, I acquired valuable insight in Japanese history, social sciences and art while gaining confi…
  • This was a really fun course. Great teachers and I found the subject incredibly interesting. They teach you through images and it's such an unique way to learn. Super Recommend.
  • The topics covered are very interesting. I have not heard about those things in the media or other places before so it was eye-opening.
  • This MOOC felt a lot more casual than a lot of the other ones I've taken. It's really quite fun and very informative.
  • Profile image for Kirill Soloviev
    Kirill Soloviev
  • Jennifer Xiang

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