Tag Archives: history

Higuchi Ichiyō and Bungakukai

File this one under “research notes,” by which I mean things I think about a lot but about which I don’t have the wherewithal to write an article or conference paper. Sorry.

We know Higuchi Ichiyō 樋口一葉 now as a tragic figure, and a famous one. She appears on the 5000-yen ($50) bill in Japan and is widely read in classrooms, if perhaps not for fun due to her difficult writing style. Appearing on the money in the twenty-first century is not too shabby for a young author who died at 24 in 1896, just as her star was rising in the Tokyo literary world.

5000-yen bill

Continue reading Higuchi Ichiyō and Bungakukai

Introducing Waseda bungaku #2 早稲田文学第二次

Waseda bungaku, the literary magazine of Waseda University (Tokyo Senmon Gakkō until 1902), was originally published in the 1880s by famed writer and theater critic (and professor) Tsubouchi Shōyō, and ceased publication in the 1890s. It was started up again by his successors, explicitly in his honor and in that of the original magazine, in 1906, and went until 1927. This, as opposed to the first run (dai ichi-ji) is known now as the second series or run, dai ni-ji. It’s since gone through a number of changes in ji and is on dai-jūji (#10) in its current form – it’s still a running literary magazine today.

I’m particularly interested in this second run of the magazine because of its content, as well as its clear intent to do honor to the original, influential mid-Meiji (1868-1912) periodical. As I’ve touched on in previous posts, it’s highly nostalgic, with articles not only on current novels but on earlier Meiji works, and memories of the writers regarding their literary and social groups from their youths in the 1880s and early 1890s. There were some special Meiji literature issues (特別号) that came out in expanded form and cost significantly more than the typical issue, but even the other issues are full of memories, not just current concerns.

photoThe publisher of the magazine, Tōkyōdō, is also of interest to me, and I’m currently starting to try to look into the relationship of this commercial publisher and the academic interest group behind Waseda bungaku. Surprisingly to me, there is quite a lot published (in a relative sense, and relative to my expectations) on both Waseda University, and also Tōkyōdō itself. (Including great titles like A Stroll Through 100 Years of Tōkyōdō History.) I’m fast checking these books out and they’re becoming a growing mountain on my office bookshelves, with a significant amount of space taken up by four volumes of the 9-volume set 100 Years of Waseda University History.

Why am I so interested in this publishing history? Well, I recently received the 1929 Meiji bungaku kenkyū, which is ostensibly (according to catalog records, anyway) a reprint edition of the special Meiji literature issues of Waseda bungaku. However, when I examined the two-volume set itself, it’s a set of rebound issues – original covers and advertisements and all, bound up in hardcovers. Even the preface refers to new binding (新装) specifically, rather than a new printing or a collection. It’s extremely explicit that it’s a literal collection of old magazine issues.

The fact that Tōkyōdō seems to have rebound its overstock in 1929, two years after the journal ceased, and sold it at relatively low prices (5 yen for the set) is interesting enough, but what is even better is the fact that the advertisements are not from 1925, when the first issues included were originally published, but from 1927. Even more interesting, they’re Meiji-focused, largely for the series Meiji bungaku meicho zenshū, a collection of “famous writers” of Meiji literature (which I’ve posted on previously). These are obviously reprinted issues of the magazine from 1927, two years after their original publication date, and have had current advertisements related to the content of the issues (remember, “special Meiji literature” issues) inserted into them instead of the original 1925 ads for things like books written by the journal editors on Western philosophers. (By “original” I’m referring actually to a reproduction I have of these same issues with 1925 ads, but am not actually sure if these are from “originals” as in first printings, or if these are also later printings that have been reproduced.)

So this indicates that not only are these overstock that Tōkyōdō wanted to try to sell off in a repackaged format (“as a resource for future Meiji scholars” rather than “old issues of a literary magazine from four years ago”), but they were later printings than the 1925 original first printings. This means that there was enough interest in and demand for the Meiji special issues, whether at the time or after the fact, for them to be reissued by a commercial publisher whose goal is to make money off of them. There must have been such demand that the publisher saw profit in it.

This brings me back to previous posts about interest in Meiji, Meiji nostalgia, and Meiji and Meiji literature themselves as “things” to be studied, as fields, newly invented post-Meiji and specifically in the late 1920s. (Even if this isn’t the first appearance of the phrase “Meiji literature,” I’d still argue that as a “thing,” it really came into being at this time in terms of being popular, published, studied, and talked about.) There is obviously a market and demand for things Meiji at this time, testified to by both the reissued magazines and their rebinding, packaging, and marketing to “scholars.” I’m still on the fence about what the interest in Meiji actually meant – was it really scholarly work as these collections advertise themselves, or was it something about grasping onto recently lived past and lost youth? Or perhaps both?

NDL makes public the Historical Recordings Collection digital archive

On March 15, 2013, the National Diet Library made public their new digital archive of historical recordings. In partnership with a number of groups, including NHK, they have digitized and made available recordings from SPs from 1900 to the 1950s, in order to preserve them and prevent their becoming lost.

As time goes on, they plan to hold approximately 50,000 recordings in the archive. Although many recordings can be accessed via the Internet, some are only available to listen at the NDL itself due to copyright restrictions.

You can also access an NDL article on the digitization of recordings, entitled 音の歴史を残す (PDF link).

The archive is the Historical Recordings Collection, accessible at http://rekion.dl.ndl.go.jp/

disciplinarity and undergraduate education

I have a quick comment on a recent blog post I read: “The Politics of Disciplinarity at the Undergraduate Level” (Natalia Cecire) This is adapted and expanded from a lengthy comment I left at said blog.

I have an admission to make: I was a naive, stereotypical computer science major. How so? I looked down, so very much, on the humanities – on what I perceived to be the humanities. Soft, vague, insular, self-interested, and ultimately irrelevant to my (or anyone else’s) life. “Learning for learning’s sake” was my hobby, but somehow it seemed ridiculous as a university course. How would humanities majors get jobs? Perhaps it’s partly my humble background, but majoring in something that didn’t have a definable endpoint in a career that would make up for the investment in a college education just seemed worse than pointless. It seemed irresponsible and naive.

Yet I was the one who was naive, along with my fellow CS majors who mocked MBAs and even the information science students. They were the ones who couldn’t hack it, right? If you’re not in a hard science or engineering (and we counted ourselves among them), you’re just playing around; you can’t make it to our league.

Who was I kidding? Myself.

I am now, as you know, in a humanities PhD program. I’m in an area studies department but study the history of the book, and came to it via literature (and before that, via a very social-science oriented history department, which is also partly the explanation for my attitude toward things like cultural studies and other vague humanities, including history departments with this bent).

It’s been a hard road, admittedly, for me to come to terms with this. I’ve never felt fully at home in the humanities and it’s because of the carryover of this attitude. And yet at the same time I’ve been doing a dual degree in information science, the very discipline I used to mock along with my CS buddies as for the kids who couldn’t hack our program, who couldn’t move from pseudocode to real programming, to real work.

And as you may guess, I’ve changed my mind in that I’ve become less naive (I would hope) and much more broad-minded about what can mean. Of course it’s more difficult to get a job that translates directly from a humanities degree to something concrete – but that doesn’t mean that one’s degree isn’t widely applicable and doesn’t prepare one for a variety of life paths. I know that’s often considered a platitude uttered by career counselors at universities everywhere (not to mention tenured professors who don’t understand undergrads’ lack of appreciation for “learning for learning’s sake”) but it’s true.

One of the things that was lacking from my CS education was a strong dose of critical thinking. It wasn’t until a few years into my humanities PhD program that I could think critically about the science discipline that I had come from, about  the inability to be truly objective but rather the ability to recognize and be aware of one’s own biases, and about how the questions we are able to ask, the problems we are able to pose, are not self-evident. Thinking critically about code, about programming, about application design from the very concept of applications to the endpoint of execution, was not in my DNA until I had already left the field and joined the legions of critical thinkers that inhabited another.*

The blog post referenced above speaks to the implications of politics at the “academic” level about disciplinarity having perhaps unintended consequences for attitudes at the undergraduate level, and so I’m sharing my undergraduate attitude, and gradual attitude change, above. Below, I’d like to address another consequence that the author brings up: the possibility of differential undergraduate tuition that could reflect perceived value of various “hard” versus “soft” majors. This is what I had to say in my comment on her blog:

One school, at least, has already implemented the policy of differential undergrad tuition: University of Michigan (where I am currently a student). The tuition varies by college, with Engineering being the best example, but since Computer Science is in the college of Arts & Sciences but veers toward the money-making assumption about engineering, it also gets differential (higher) tuition at the upperclassmen level.

I was a computer science major as an undergrad, and this kind of system would have strongly discouraged me from pursuing the degree. As a woman who was often the only woman, or one of perhaps two or three, in a class of 40-60 students, this has serious implications for the demographics of the major, which are already an issue. I also have to say that as a computer science undergrad with a double major in history, I held that unfortunate attitude: CS is “real work” whereas history is something fun I did on the side, something not really relevant to anything but history and academia itself.

I’m now a PhD candidate in the history of the book (within an area studies department – humanities, in other words), and I see now the patronizing and narrow-minded attitude I have. But it is so prevalent that even I – and I naively considered myself broad-minded – held it for a long time, and actively mocked those outside the “hard” sciences because of it.

It’s so pervasive, and I’m glad that you addressed the fact that what is often written off as academic squabbles and pissing matches impact undergrads profoundly as well.


* That’s not to say that everyone who majors in the humanities ends up being able to think critically. I meet many who get by completely unable to do so. But here I speak from my own experience and say that it is what allowed me to do so.

moratoria: “western” edition

Some of you who know me well (academically) will probably not be surprised by this post, but here I go anyway. I just need to vent a little.

I am typing up handwritten notes right now, getting organized. I am typing some words over and over (used by the authors of the things I took notes on, not me): “western,” “european” and their “influence”.

Okay, I am officially calling you out on this, scholars. This, as far as I am concerned, is about as INTELLECTUALLY LAZY as you can get.
Continue reading moratoria: “western” edition