Premodern Japan: Earliest Times to 1868


Spring 2018





Edo street scene (ca. 18th century)

This subject surveys the history of the Japanese archipelago and its inhabitants from the earliest times to the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868. During the semester, we will explore how Japan was unified under a court-centered state, how this state was enmeshed in the broader world from the beginning of its existence, and how this regime was transformed by the rise (and fall) of the samurai, the warrior class. At the same time, we will examine both the inner and the everyday lives of the inhabitants of the archipelago, paying particular attention to intellectual currents, spirituality, and the arts.

Underlying these explorations are three key questions. First, how did Japan become Japan? Secondly, what is pre-modernity? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how might our understanding of pre-modern Japan transform the ways we understand and engage with the world we live in now? The primary objective of this course is to enable students to come up with their own answers to each of these questions, through the critical analysis of historical sources, including texts, visual materials, and museum exhibits.