Education About Asia: Online Archives

Modern Japan: A History in Documents

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155 PAGES, PAPERBACK, ISBN: 0-765613-36-0

Reviewed by William M. Tsutsui

There is no shortage of fine textbooks on the history of modern Japan. But all- from the old standards authored by Peter Duus, Mikiso Hane and Kenneth Pyle, to more recent volumes from Andrew Gordon, James McClain, and Conrad Totman- follow the same familiar formula. All are long, content-rich, chronological narratives written in the dispassionate, authoritative voice of a detached, “objective” historian. As is typical of textbooks, the interpretation is done for the student reader, who is expected to be a more-or-less passive consumer of the historical information and analysis provided. Primary sources, the raw materials of history, are implicitly deemed supplemental by such traditional textbooks: it is left to the discretion of the instructor to identify assign, and distribute primary materials as additional course readings. With the vast majority of textbooks- including all or those commonly used in modern Japanese history classes- students can only experience the practice of history vicariously.

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