MIT Visualizing Cultures

Asia Rising and Yellow Promise/Yellow Peril – Lesson 02

Doing the Historian's Work

Inquiry, organization, and analysis are at the heart of the historian’s job. This lesson allows students to become historians of the Russo-Japanese War and further develop their analysis and synthesis skills. Students will analyze and organize the raw data of postcards and photos from this war, and then draw conclusions from their categorization. Students should have a very basic knowledge of the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War.

National History Standards

At the conclusion of this activity, students will be better able to:

1. Identify photos and postcards as primary documents.

2. Understand postcards and photographs as mediums of communication during the Russo-Japanese War.

3. Categorize data according to common characteristics.

4. Generalize from specific information.

Time Required
Two class periods

Materials and preparation
Monitor/projection device
Individual computer and Internet access
Japanese Postcards Template (PowerPoint)
Foreign Postcards Template (PowerPoint)

Teachers are highly encouraged to do Lessons 01A and 01B with their students prior to this lesson.

1. Ask students to define primary documents. Generate a list of examples of primary documents. Ask the students to examine the list for visual primary documents. How many have they included? If they have included more written texts, ask them to consider the reasons. Introduce postcards and photographs as primary documents of the Russo-Japanese War. Give students a brief background on the history of postcards and photographs. In this background, include the following points:

 • The postcard was developed in Europe and adopted by Japan in the Meiji period (1868–1912).

 • By the 1880s, the postcard was a very popular form of communication in Japan.

 • Postcard manufacturing was opened up to private companies in Europe and Japan shortly before the Russo-Japanese War.

 • Postcards were mass produced.

 • Postcards became a major form of communication for people all over the world in the early-20th century and so this is the way people all over the world “viewed” the Russo-Japanese War, not just the Japanese.

 • The Russo-Japanese War was watched very closely by people all over the world because all of the major nations were involved, either through the actual fighting (Russia and Japan), through financing one of the two sides, or through political alliances. Also, the war involved the most up-to-date military tactics and technology.

2. Tell the students that they will be acting as historians of the Russo-Japanese War. They have been given an unorganized set of visual primary documents. These documents are in no particular order or established categories. It is up to the student to examine the documents, and then establish categories by content. (The primary PowerPoint documents have only been divided by origin. One set is those of Japanese origin. Another is those of origin outside Japan. Assign students to one set or the other.)

Japanese Postcards Template (PowerPoint)
Foreign Postcards Template (PowerPoint)

3. Instruct students to examine the primary documents in the set they have been assigned. Look for patterns in the content. Copy and paste postcards with like content onto individual slides. After a slide has three or four documents with like theme or content within it, students should write a descriptive title for that category at the top. Although there are five slides in each template, students should not be bound to that number.

4. Tell the students to think about their categories as a group. What one statement or generalization can the students make that binds all of these ideas together? What do all of these categories say about the way some people in Japan visualized the Russo-Japanese War? What do the categories say about the way foreigners visualized the Russo-Japanese War?

5. Tell students to examine the categories John Dower, principal historian of these units, generated:

Heroes and Heroines
The Well-Watched War
Postcard "Realism"
Cartoon Adversaries
The Yellow Peril

Students should compare Dower’s categorization with their own. Were their categories substantially different? If so, why? Why would John Dower have different categories? (Possible answers include he had substantially more time, more information, and/or more data.) Make sure to emphasize that the students’ categories, if supported, are not invalidated.

6. Just as students established a generalization about their own categories, they should now do the same with John Dower’s categories. What one main statement can be made from all of his ideas?

7. Keeping the generalization that students generated (step #6) in mind, ask students to examine the signature graphic for postcards of Japanese origin and the signature graphic for postcards of foreign origin. Why do you think each particular graphic was chosen? What one main idea across Dower’s categories do they make? Does each graphic represent that idea? The graphics also need to be visually compelling. What elements of each graphic are visually compelling?

8. Instruct the students to choose an alternative signature graphic from the set of postcards with which they worked. The students need to list three reasons for choosing this graphic. One of these reasons must address the ways in which this postcard is visually compelling.

9. Organize the students into groups of four. Members should have worked on the same set of postcards—either Japanese-produced or foreign-produced. In their assigned groups, students should present their own individual selection of the signature graphic with the reasons for this selection. Then, as a group they must agree on one alternative signature graphic and present their selection to the entire class.

10. On a monitor, juxtapose the two signature images of the Asia Rising and Yellow Promise/Yellow Peril units. As a class, ask the students to consider and discuss the following:

 • What message does their juxtaposition make?
 • Do the agreed-upon class images make the same message? Why or why not?

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