By Steven J. Ericson
In the courses I teach in Japanese history, I incorporate a fair amount of literary works. In lectures, besides quoting frequently from contemporary historical sources, I try to include vivid or humorous excerpts from poems, short stories, and novels. In doing so, I strive to keep students’ interest by varying the pace and content of my lectures and to illustrate in a lively and memorable way key points I make about historical developments. With the similar aim of adding variety and bringing to life the history I am covering, I assign one or two short stories on almost a weekly basis and, during the course of the term, one or two novels dealing with the periods or themes under consideration. I also focus some of the discussion sections on assigned readings in Japanese fiction. In the discussions themselves, I encourage students to comment critically on what the literary works tell them about the society and times they have encountered in the textbook and other required history readings.