MIT Visualizing Cultures

Throwing Off Asia – Lesson 02

Doing History: Analyzing, Organizing Data, Forming Hypotheses

Note: this lesson shares the skill objectives of data analysis and categorization with lesson seven but with different content objectives. Teachers may want to choose one lesson or the other.

This lesson is most effective as an introduction to Throwing Off Asia, before students have had the opportunity to study the texts written by Professor Dower.
As does lesson two in Yellow Promise/Yellow Peril, this activity introduces students to the visual data collection of Throwing Off Asia through a structured historical thinking exercise. Students analyze a sizeable selection of woodblock prints of the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War, looking for patterns and themes. Students then organize images into categories based on the patterns and themes they detect.
National History Standards (Word doc)

At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be better able to:
1. Recognize woodblock prints as a news medium of the time period.
2. Consider woodblock prints as a reflection of the agendas of various players—the artist, the government, the public—rather than as objective representations of fact.
3. Assess Japan’s role in the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War and the impact of each on Japan’s progress towards world-power status.
4. Identify patterns across a large sampling of random images.
5. Categorize data to develop organizing themes.

Time Required
1-2 class periods

Materials and preparation
Individual or small group access to computers and Internet
Random Sample of Sino-Japanese War (PowerPoint)
Random Sample of Russo-Japanese War (PowerPoint)
Multiple copies of images (optional)
Handout 02-A


Part A: Investigating Sino-Japanese War Woodblock Prints
1. Explain that in this activity students will be doing the work of the historian. They will analyze a collection of unorganized primary sources and identify patterns and categories that can help organize information on an event, and to form a narrative or story of that event. In this case, students will be looking at a random sample of woodblock prints—visual primary sources on the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to 1895. 
It may be useful to provide students with background to this task. Explain that there were around 3,000 woodblock prints created by Japanese artists to portray the Sino-Japanese War alone to Japanese at home, and in the process to promote their patriotic support. They amounted to a particularly vivid expression of nationalistic propaganda celebrating Japan's emergence as a “modern” and “Westernized” imperialist power. There are several collections of Meiji prints in various museums in and outside Japan. As indicated in the bibliography of the Essays, there are also a small number of useful illustrated English-language books on the subject, including exhibition catalogs, as well as a very useful 1971 essay by Professor Donald Keene that places the Sino-Japanese War prints in the larger context of Japanese nationalism at the turn of the century.* Throwing Off Asia makes large quantities of these striking graphics accessible for the first time, and is based almost entirely on the excellent Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Historian John W. Dower, author of this unit, analyzed over 600 war prints in the Sharf Collection in making the selections for Throwing Off Asia, and the MFA digitized many of these at his request. In effect, students will be following the same process as the historian in studying, analyzing, categorizing, and creating coherence from a set of unorganized primary sources.
2. Give the students Handout 02-A or direct them to the handout in the student section of the Throwing Off Asia curriculum. Clarify that the woodblock prints that students will work with are a random sample—they represent no particular order, categories, or artists. It is up to the students, working in small groups, to examine the documents and create categories that help define and promote understanding of the collection.
Review Handout 02-A with the class to ensure that students understand the task before putting them into groups. Caution that students should examine the woodblock prints first, looking for patterns or subjects that go across numerous prints, before trying to come up with categories. Once students have found like information, images, or topics across several woodblock prints, that information should lead them to a category title.
Students will be working with a mini-database of woodblock prints: Random Sample of Sino-Japanese War (PowerPoint).
3. To complete the handout, students will first work together in their groups to group pictures with similar information, subjects, or topics. They will then create categories of information across the woodblock prints. Allow time for students to complete their analysis and transfer their work to the Handout 02-A matrix.  Although the matrix provides space for five categories, students should not be bound to that number.
4. When groups have completed their matrices, ask them to think about the categories their group has created and to come up with one statement or generalization that binds all of the categories and ideas within them together. In other words, what do all of these categories say about the way people in Japan saw and understood the Sino-Japanese War if they relied on these woodblock prints, and others like them, for information?
Part B: Investigating Russo-Japanese War Prints 
Students will conduct an abbreviated version of the same process, examining woodblock prints of the Russo-Japanese War.
1. For homework, have students individually conduct the same process of analysis and categorization with a mini-database of woodblock prints: Random Sample of Russo-Japanese War (PowerPoint), using Handout 02-A. Point out that the Russo-Japanese War took place 10 years after the Sino-Japanese War and, as a result, conditions had changed. Students may find that some of the categories that made sense for the Sino-Japanese War prints won’t work for the Russo-Japanese War and they should direct their attention to finding categories that capture and organize the information in this particular set of woodblock prints.
Inform students that by the time of the Russo-Japanese War, photography had largely replaced woodblock prints as the primary medium for presenting information on the war effort, battles, victories, and so on. Although woodblock prints about the Russo-Japanese War were still produced, they were less popular and less widespread by this time. In addition, other visual media, such as postcards, were being employed to mobilize public spirit behind the war. (The medium of postcards and their uses in the Russo-Japanese War are the subject of two other MIT Visualizing Cultures units, Asia Rising and Yellow Promise/Yellow Peril.)
2. Return students to the working groups from the previous day and ask them to spend 10 minutes sharing the categories that they identified for the Russo-Japanese War. How did their categories compare to others in their group? How did the categories compare and contrast to those the group developed for the Sino-Japanese War? What new categories were developed for the Russo-Japanese War? Which categories no longer seemed relevant to the subject matter and topics of the Russo-Japanese War?
3. Ask each group to report out to the entire class on two categories that were new to the Russo-Japanese War and two that remained useful across both wars. Record responses on the board. Ask the class: in general, how did the subject matter of the two sets of woodblock prints compare? What noticeable differences and new categories were there?
Ask the class members to hypothesize why the changes they identified above might be so. What do they think (or know) had changed between 1895 and 1905 for Japan?
4. Return to the generalizations about the Sino-Japanese War that students generated in part A, step #4 (above). Ask the class to come up with a parallel general statement about the Russo-Japanese War. Their statement should be based solely on their analyses of the Russo-Japanese War woodblock prints and the categories they identified for those prints. 

 *Donald Keene, “The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and Its Cultural Effects in Japan” in Donald H. Shively, ed. Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971: 121-175

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