Hist 820-99: Modern Japanese Political History (Spring 2010)

Hist 820-99: Modern Japanese Political History

Prof. Jonathan Dresner
e-mail: jdresner@pittstate.edu
Phone: 235-4315
Office: RH 406F
Online Course
Spring 2010
Office Hours: MWF 10-12, 1-2,
Tu 10-12, 1-3

Course Description

Japan’s modern political history covers some very familiar ground — modernization, westernization, political parties, democratization, radicalism, fascism, bureaucratization and internationalization — but the distinctly Japanese versions of these phenomenon rewards close and comparative study. The role of the Emperor, the transition from pre-modern to modern systems of law, the changing role of women, the transition from militarism to pacifism, the two un-amended Constitutions, the tension between oligarchic, party and bureaucratic rule, the role of violence all give Japanese political history issues which have and continue to be debated intensely by historians and other experts.

In this course we will examine some secondary scholarship and primary sources, and you will investigate a specific historiographical issue in depth.

This course is being offered online, primarily through the ANGEL learning management system (LMS), though I will use my website — http://dresnerjapan.edublogs.org — for hosting some resources. If you have any questions about using ANGEL, contact the Gorilla Geeks (620-235-4600; Geeks@pittstate.edu)


History is about real people, diverse cultures, interesting theories, strongly held belief systems, complex situations, conflicts and often-dramatic actions. This information may be disturbing. Such is the nature of historical study.


  • Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists: The Violent Politics of Modern Japan, 1860-1960 by Eiko Maruko Siniawer, Cornell University Press (2008).
  • Postwar Japan as History, ed. Andrew Gordon. University of California Press (1993).
  • Sources of Japanese Tradition, Volume 2, Part 2: 1868 to 2000 (abridged), ed. deBary, Gluck, Tiedemann, Columbia University Press, 2006.

Course Goals

Students will gain a strong background in the practice of history as done by professional historians and the issues of modern Japanese historiography. Students will apply their learning to the selection and execution of an in-depth historiographical essay.


Students are expected to behave respectfully towards their peers and instructor. Online comments must be constructive and reasonable. Disruptive behavior will result in participation penalties. This does not mean that there can’t be lively discussions and disagreements, but personal attacks, vulgar language, threats, and failure to give others a chance to speak and be heard are not acceptable.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism will not be tolerated in this course. As a graduate student, you should know what plagiarism is and how to properly document your sources in your work. If you have any questions, ask.


Advising is a very important resource designed to help students complete the requirements of the University and the History program. Students should consult with their advisor at least once a semester to decide on courses, check progress towards graduation, and discuss career options and other educational opportunities. Advising is a shared responsibility, but students have final responsibility for meeting degree requirements.

Student Accommodation

Any student with a documented disability who would like to request accommodations should contact the instructor as early in the semester as possible. For more information, contact the Learning Center (Kelly D. Heiskell, 235-4309, kdheiske@pittstate.edu)


All schedules, assignments, and policies in the syllabus are subject to change. Check the website, which will have the most current and accurate information possible, as well as copies of course handouts.

Reading and Assignment Deadlines

All assignments are due — posted or drop-boxed — by 5pm on the date indicated. Since you have to complete the readings to do the assignments, you will want to make sure that you start doing them well before the deadlines.

Attendance and Participation

Absences may be excused for unusual school-related events (not athletic practices), illness or family-related problems, but only if I am informed in advance or you have documentation (such as a doctor’s note). Unexcused absences will affect your grade.

The essence of scholarship is constructive engagement; the best learning comes from doing. It is very important that everyone keep up with the readings, and participates productively in the discussion forums. Asking good questions is an important form of participation.

Specifically, students are responsible for responding in a timely fashion to each other’s postings with comments, arguments and constructive criticism.

Small Writing Assignments

To go along with the readings in the first third of the course, there will be short writing assignments. These will serve as the starting place for the discussion forums. You are responsible for commenting substantively on at least two other students’ work for each assignment (not each week: some weeks there are multiple assignments, each of which requires two comments). Your grade will be based on thoughtfulness and responsiveness to the question, not on structure, grammar, or polish. If no word limit is noted, you may write as much or as little as you wish to answer the question.

  • The first assignment (1/20) is to write a 500-word essay on the most important difference between the Meiji and post-war Constitutions and post it in the appropriate discussion forum. The constitutions may be found on the Resources page of the edublogs website, and links included in the assignment folder on ANGEL.

  • For the Siniawer book, (1/27) there are three assignments, each of which should be posted in the appropriate discussion forum:
    • First, pick a chapter to write a short summary — 500 words or less — focusing on the chapter’s thesis and most interesting evidence.
    • Second, for another chapter, pick out a place where Siniawer is significantly revising or arguing against other historians’ views and explain what the disagreement is and why it matters. You will need to check her footnotes, of course, and you might also want to look for reviews of the book (there aren’t many in print yet, though)
    • Finally, from another chapter, pick something that looks like it would be interesting to follow-up on with more research and explain why, what sort of question you would focus on, and what sort of evidence would be necessary.

  • For the Gordon collection (2/3), there are four assignments, each of which should be posted in the appropriate discussion forum
    • First, pick two chapters to write a short summaries — 500 words or less each — focusing on the chapter’s thesis and most interesting evidence.
    • From a third chapter, pick something that looks like it would be interesting to follow-up on with more research and explain why, what sort of question you would focus on, and what sort of evidence would be necessary.
    • Finally, this book was produced in the years around 1990, and includes discussion of Japanese society more or less up to the present (at that time). Should there be a limit on historians’ discussions of contemporary society, or is it more or less the same as any other time as long as the historians’ methods remain consistent? Discuss.

  • For the first set of sources (2/10) there are two assignments
    • Using these primary sources, evaluate Siniawer’s argument: do they support her conclusions or not? Be specific. (up to 1000 words)
    • pick a section that looks like it would be interesting to follow-up on with more research and explain why, what sort of question you would focus on and what sort of evidence would be necessary.

  • For the second set of sources (2/17), using examples from the reading, discuss (1000 words or less) either:
    • the role of politics, nationalism and theory in historical writing: when is it a valuable tool and when is it an unfortunate bias?
    • Marc Bloch wrote “To be excited by the same dispute even on opposing sides, is still to be alike. This common stamp, deriving from a common age, is what makes a generation.” (The Historian’s Craft, p. 185) Are there strong common threads that run through the Japanese historians represented here, despite their differences?

“The first law of history is to dread uttering a falsehood;
the next is not to fear stating the truth; lastly,
the historian’s writings should be open to no suspicion of partiality or animosity.”
— Leo XIII

Historiographical Essay

This will be a survey of existing scholarship — findings, trends, sources, gaps — on a topic of modern Japanese history, addressing the strengths and weaknesses of existing approaches and explaining how writing on the topic has changed over time. You will need to come to a conclusion about the state of scholarship on the topic, as well as your own ideas for fruitful directions or new questions.

For the first assignments (Topic, Scholarly Bibliography, Online/Primary sources, Annotated Bibliography, Thesis/Outline) you will post your assignment in the appropriate discussion forum and you will comment on at least two other students’ assignments.

The drafts (partial, complete, final) will be turned in through the Angel Dropbox. I will repost the final version of all essays and each of you will read and comment on all of them.

Topic Selection due (1 page) 2/24 (W)
A short description of the subject and basic issues you’ll be researching.
Scholarly bibliography (monographs, journals) due                                             3/3 (W)
Library work! You must find at least three monograph and five journal article citations. The library catalog and digital databases are good, but don’t forget to go into the library and look around.
Online Resources and Primary Sources                                                                  3/10 (W)
What are the most important primary sources available in English, and what’s available online that addresses your topic in a scholarly fashion?
Annotated and expanded bibliography                                                                  3/29 (M)
Based on your instructor’s feedback and your own searches, evaluate your resources for utility and expand on them if possible. “Annotation” means short commentaries making it clear to your readers the relevance and value of the sources for your paper.
Thesis and Outline                                                                                                    4/2 (F)
First, a clear statement — a paragraph, at most — of the issue, the state of scholarship, and your perspective. Then, an outline (bullet points, classic outline, whatever format is clear and useful to you) explaining how you will present the material, and bring your reader to that conclusion as well.
Partial Draft  (10+ pages) 4/14 (W)
This is an incomplete draft, but it should be a substantial portion of the essay. It does not have to be the first ten pages. Include your outline (revised, no doubt) so that I can see where it all fits together and what remains to be done.
Complete Draft (20+ pages) 4/28 (W)
Ideally, this will be a complete, but unpolished, draft.
Final Essay (20+ pages) due. 5/7 (F)
This is the finished product: thesis, argument, conclusion, citations (bibliography, too, though that doesn’t count for pages).

Final Grade Distribution:

Preparation and participation: 25%
Short writing assignments: 25%
Long Essay assignments: 20%
Long Essay: 30%

Administrative Deadlines and Instructional Holidays are in Italics

Assignments and Tests are in Bold

Date Topic/Event
1/18 (M) MLK Day/Instructional Holiday
1/20 (W) Meiji and 1947 Constitutions: compare and contrast
1/21 (Th) Last day for full fee refund
Last day to add new classes
Last day for late enrollment
1/27 (W) Siniawer, all
1/29 (F) Final day for dropping course without grade report
2/3 (W) Gordon, chapters 3, 4, 8, 11, 12, 13, plus one
2/10 (W) Sources:
“The Leaders and their Vision” (12-29)
“Defining the Constitutional State” (58-64)
“Tokutomi Sohō: a Japanese Nationalist’s View of the West and Asia.” (127-139)
“Democracy at Home: Minobe Tatsukichi, Yoshino Sakuzō” (148-181)
“Socialism: The Early Socialist Movement, Anarchism, Socialism and the Left, The Tenkō phenomenon.” (212-239, 255-259)
“Revolutionary Nationalism: Kita Ikki and the Reform Wing of Ultranationalism, The Conservative Reaffirmation, Watsuji Tetsurō” (260-287)
“Spiritual and Economic Mobilization, Greater East Asia War” (304-309)
“The War’s Goals, The Greater East Asia Conference, Defeat” (312-320)
“Some Japanese Views of the War” (372-381)
2/17 (W) Sources, “Thinking With the Past: History Writing in Modern Japan (505-582)
2/24 (W) Topic selection due
3/3 (W) Scholarly Bibliography due
3/10 (W) Online/Primary Sources Bibliography due
3/12 (F) D/F Grades Due
3/15-19 Spring Break
3/29 (M) Annotated Bibliography due
Note: Instructor absent 3/24-3/26.
4/2 (F) Thesis and Outline due
4/7 (W) (no specific assignment due: check in with instructor as necessary)
4/9 (F) Final day for dropping course unless withdraw from school
4/14 (W) Partial Rough Draft Due
4/21 (W) (no specific assignment due: check in with instructor as necessary)
4/28 (W) Full Rough Draft Due
5/6 Last day to withdraw from university
5/7 (F) Final Version Due
5/8-5/14 Comments on each other’s papers

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