Visualizing Cultures is a gateway to seeing history through images that once had wide circulation among peoples of different times and places.
We do historical research this way as scholars to better understand how people saw themselves, how they saw others including foreigners and enemies, and how in turn others saw them.
Visualizing Cultures has been designed to offer viewers—especially scholars, teachers, and students—ready access to hitherto inaccessible materials, as well as guides to their careful analysis and use.
To this end, each topical unit is (or eventually will be) accompanied by a substantial Database, Bibliography, and lengthy Lesson Plan. Videos, including interviews, complement some of the presentations and analysis. All images can be enlarged and scrutinized in detail, and also downloaded for use in educational projects.
Visualizing Cultures is not an “art appreciation” project.
Rather, these units invite the viewer to examine each image carefully and critically. To this end, each topical unit imbeds its many visual images in a detailed explanatory text identified as the Core Exhibit.
Some of these images are harsh, for history itself is harsh.
While many images may be aesthetically attractive, or entertaining, or “realistic” (like photography), some are cruel, brutal, and offensive. Users must keep in mind that the purpose of Visualizing Cultures is to gain a more accurate, first-hand sense of all the many ways in which people have presented and viewed their times.
Graphics that depict dark aspects of history—such as violence, intolerance, racism, aggressive nationalism, war and atrocity, abuse of others and of the environment in general—have not been censored.
We must confront such harsh images directly—and struggle to critically understand them—if we hope to ever make a better world.
To date (2006), Visualizing Cultures uses Japan since the mid-19th century as a case study for gaining new perspectives on “cultures” in the broadest sense—the “cultures,” for example, of Westernization, modernization, changing modes of technology and mass communication, imperialism, nationalism, militarism, racism, commercialization and consumerism, etc.
Projected future units will deal with photography in late 19th and early 20th-century Asia; modernism in Japan before World War Two; and the Asia-Pacific War of the 1930s and early 1940s (including in China) as seen from the perspectives—and through the propaganda—of all the various antagonists. The units on "Visualizing Japan" have been written by John W. Dower. Technology and pedagogy development for these units is under the supervision of Shigeru Miyagawa.
Please view and use these Visualizing Cultures units carefully, in the spirit in which they have been prepared.
To tear images out of context and use them irresponsibly and provocatively destroys the highest ideals of uncensored sharing and communication that sophisticated virtual technology now makes possible. To use the graphic imagery of the past to perpetuate cycles of violence and hatred runs counter to everything for which Visualizing Cultures stands. The goal must be to understand the past so that we can make the present and future world a better place.
John W. Dower
May 5, 2006