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Symposium: Imperial Japan and Colonial Sensibility: Affect, Object, Embodiment (Day 1)

Organized by Mariko Tamanoi and Jordan Sand

Friday, December 07, 2007
9:45 AM - 5:00 PM
314 Royce Hall
Humanities Conference Room
Los Angeles, CA 90095

This symposium assembles scholars from a range of disciplines to consider the Japanese colonial empire and its aftermath from the perspective of affects and aesthetics, fantasies and reminiscences, manifestations in material culture, embodied representations, and self-representations. Participants will examine a range of social positions and relationships shaped by Japanese imperialism, including Japanese colonists and non-Japanese subjects in the colonies, migrants within the empire, migrants to the metropole, returnees from the colonies after the war, and subjects of the postcolonial nation-states. By focusing on emotions and the senses, this collaboration aims to expose hitherto overlooked aspects of life under colonialism. At the same time, the symposium will explore the ways that everyday language and private experience articulated colonial relations of power.

"Imperial Japan and Colonial Sensibility" was a project originally conceived by Miriam Silverberg, Professor of Japanese History at UCLA. Following Miriam’s retirement in 2005, Miriam’s students, colleagues and friends decided to carry it forward in order to honor her enormous contributions to the study of modern Japan as both a teacher and a scholar.

Miriam received her M.A. at Georgetown University in 1979 and her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1984. She studied in Japan with the political historian and philosopher Fujita Shôzô and worked with numerous other scholars in Japan, including literary scholar Maeda Ai and women’s historian Fujime Yuki. She joined the UCLA faculty in 1990. In her pathbreaking study of poet and cultural critic Nakano Shigeharu, Changing Song: The Marxist Manifestos of Nakano Shigeharu, Miriam revealed to the field an entirely new face to Japanese modernity and new tools for analyzing it. Changing Song received the 1990 John King Fairbank Prize in East Asian History. A Japanese translation was published 1998. In this work, Miriam established the combination of theoretical depth and materialist grounding that would characterize all of her subsequent work. Changing Song was followed by articles on feminist writer Sata Ineko, on ethnographic approaches to urban modernity in the 1920s and 1930s, on Japanese film, advertising and media culture during the Asia-Pacific War, and on numerous other subjects. Her essays have been without exception surprising, inventive and compelling, drawing on a wide range of sources, and moving freely between the ephemeral and the canonical. Her essay “The Modern Girl as Militant,” published in 1991, remains the definitive work on the modern girl in Japan. The year 2007 saw publication of her second book monograph, Erotic Grotesque Nonsense, a work of tremendous scope that reframes the cultural history of interwar Japan, realizing the promise of the now classic essay she published in 1991, “Constructing a New Cultural History of Prewar Japan,” in which she called for a reappraisal of Japanese modernity from the perspective of Japan’s “consumer-subjects.” 

Miriam recognized the significance of the colonial empire to understanding modern Japan well before the emergence of interest in postcolonial studies among scholars in Japanese studies. Her Masters essay at Georgetown dealt with the massacre of Koreans in Tokyo following the earthquake of 1923. At UCLA, her long interest in the history of the empire and in Koreans in the metropole led her to teach courses such as “Race and Culture” and “The Japanese Ideology of Empire,” guiding graduate students toward new studies that brought Japanese and Korean modern experience together, exposing the vast hidden landscape of colonial modernity.

As a scholar, Miriam has consistently pushed the boundaries of the field, posing bold questions and pursuing her own answers with both intellectual rigor and astonishing creative imagination. As a teacher, she has encouraged students to read widely, to think imaginatively, and to write history that is both personally meaningful and meaningful to the world. In recent teaching and writing, she has turned to the problem of how to historicize the subject of intimacy. This symposium thus synthesizes several of the topics and methodological issues that Miriam has done so much over the years to reveal to the field. We hope it will be a first step toward responding to the many challenges she has posed us as scholars of modernity and of imperial Japan.

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Download file: colonial sensibility symposium program.pdf

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