21G.027 | Fall 2016 | Undergraduate

Asia in the Modern World: Images & Representations


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session



  • Learn to critically analyze images in their historical and cultural context;
  • Understand the meaning of choosing various media forms (woodblock, photographs, etc.);
  • Become familiar with the creation of various media forms.


  • Learn how Japan emerged from a long isolation to become a modern state;
  • Understand the role of Western imperialism in Japan in particular and Asia in general;
  • Learn how public spaces are used to visualize priorities of the ruling body, the common populace.


  • Learn to clearly communicate in writing;
  • Learn to clearly communicate in speaking.


  • Learn to work in teams;
  • Learn when to lead, when to play a supporting role.


We will explore images that pertain to the emergence of Japan as a modern state. We will focus on images that depict Japan as it comes into contact with the rest of the world after its long and deep isolation during the feudal period. We will begin with Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s arrival in Japan in 1853–1854 using images drawn from a wide range of collections in the U.S. and Japan. Later sections of the course will cover the opening of Japanese ports, especially Yokohama (Smithsonian’s Arthur Sackler Gallery); Russo-Japanese War (the Boston Museum of Fine Arts) and the Hibiya Park riot immediately after it; foreign photographers’ images of Japanese people and places (Hood Museum, Dartmouth University); modern Japanese women (the Shiseido Archives); and so forth.

We will also cover city planning of Tokyo that took place after WWII, and such topics as the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

A unique feature of this offering of VJ is that we will run it concurrently with the edX MOOC, Visualizing Japan (1850s–1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity, which will cover the first six weeks or so, and two University of Tokyo MOOCs, Visualizing Postwar Tokyo and Four Faces of Contemporary Japanese Architecture, for much of the remainder of the class. Most of the assignments will be based on the MOOC during the time it is running.

Writing and Speaking Assignments for a Communication Intensive Course

Communication intensive subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences require at least 20 pages of writing divided among a number of assignments, at least one of which is revised and resubmitted. This class requires three papers and one final project that total at least 21 pages in length (double-spaced). The first essay will be graded and returned to you for your revision and resubmission. This resubmission will receive a grade separate from the grade on the first draft. The resubmission grade will be based on the extent and quality of the revision (e.g., A B paper that is poorly revised may receive a C for the resubmission). A schedule of due dates is given in the Calendar.

HASS-CI subjects also offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through class discussion and student presentations. This class requires all students to participate in a weekly discussion of the assigned reading and films. In addition, each student will make two formal presentations, both of which will receive written feedback and be graded. The first presentation will be on your second essay, and the second presentation on your final essay. To guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the number of students in this class is limited to 25 with the writing advisor.

Assignments & Determination of Course Grade

All class assignments up to the final individual project, including the above readings, are accessible on the course site. The assignments are given in this syllabus and / or on the course site. These assignments must be turned in on time as specified on the course site and, for the hard copy, at the beginning of class on the date they are due. Late submission will result in 10% reduction each day unless the student communicates to the instructor of the reason for being late at least one full day (24 hours) prior to the deadline. No assignment will be accepted beyond two days (48 hours) after the deadline.

You are expected to attend each class; if you can’t make it, contact the instructor ahead of time. Attendance is part of the class-participation grade.


Unless otherwise noted, all readings are from the MOOC or Visualizing Cultures.


First assignment 10%
Second assignment: Written 15%
Second assignment revision 5%
Third assignment: Written 15%
Third assignment: Oral 5%
Final assignment: Written 25%
Final assignment: Oral 10%
Class participation (including group work) 15%

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2016
Learning Resource Types
Presentation Assignments
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights