MIT Visualizing Cultures
MIT Visualizing Cultures
Throwing off Asia Curriculum
by Lynn Parisi
: Table of Contents

Lesson 01:
Reading a Visual Primary Source

In this lesson, students are introduced to the skills of reading a visual text and concept of visual literacy that underpin this unit. They are also introduced to the medium of Japanese woodblock prints, the primary historical documents at the core of Throwing Off Asia.  

Lesson 02:
Doing History: Analyzing, Organizing Data, Forming Hypotheses

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.

Lesson 03:
Bunmei Kaika: The Role of Art in Promoting Government Policy

In this lesson, students will examine woodblock prints from the Meiji period that are reproduced in Throwing Off Asia. Students will read and analyze the prints individually and collectively to consider the role that popular art and artists played in “marketing” Meiji government policy of modernization to the population and encouraging popular identification with the new national identity that the Meiji government sought to achieve.

Lesson 04:
Japan at the International Table—The West as Threat or Opportunity?

In this activity, students first analyze the famous statement by Sugita Teiichi that Japan faced a critical choice—to become a guest at the international table, or the meat served up at that table—and decipher its symbolism and references. They then work in small groups to consider whether Japanese policies in the late-19th and early-20th century—the Meiji period—can best be described as the response to a threat or a challenge presented by the West.

Lesson 05:
“Old China, New Japan”

This lesson focuses on the “‘Old China, New Japan’” and “Symbolic ‘China’” sections of the Throwing Off Asia II Essay. In these sections, historian John Dower notes that woodblock prints of the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) predictably represented China as “old” and Japan as “new.” This theme met propaganda goals of the Japanese war effort and helped create a “master narrative” of that war at home in Japan. But what did “old China” and “new Japan” actually mean in these images—and, ultimately, in the popular consciousness molded by these images?

Lesson 06:
Kiyochika's Satirical Cartoons: An Analytical Approach

This lesson applies the framework for analyzing visual texts, “The Five C's,” introduced in lesson one. Students are introduced to the framework and apply its methodology to the satirical cartoons on China produced by one of the leading woodblock print artists of the Sino-Japanese War, Kobayashi Kiyochika, known as Kiyochika.

Lesson 07:
American Newspaper Narratives of the Sino-Japanese War

In this lesson, students use the Japanese woodblock prints of the Sino-Japanese War much as they were used at the time: to present media coverage of the war for Japanese people on the homefront. They will take the roles of third-party interests, specifically U.S. news correspondents reporting the Sino-Japanese War through the lenses of American perspectives, interests, and government policies. Working with an assigned perspective and using Japanese woodblock prints as the illustrations to appear with their stories, students create a newspaper or magazine story on this war.

Lesson 08:
The Birthday of the “New” Japan

Lesson eight provides a brief culminating activity for students who have completed a study of the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War through Throwing Off Asia and one or more lessons in this curriculum unit. Students consider a quote and prediction from the Western writer Lafcadio Hearn, who lived in and studied Japan for many years, and select a woodblock print that would serve as the illustration of Hearn’s assessment of Japan at the end of the Sino-Japanese War.

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