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Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity

Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology via edX

students interested
Earn A Credential Part of the Visualizing Japan XSeries
  • Provider edX
  • Subject History
  • $ Cost Free Online Course
  • Session Self Paced
  • Language English
  • Certificate $49 Certificate Available
  • Effort 3-5 hours a week
  • Start Date
  • Duration 6 weeks long

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This MITx course was developed in collaboration with HarvardX and is co-taught by MIT and Harvard historians. You will examine Japanese history in a new way—through the images created by those who were there—and the skills and questions involved in reading history through images in the digital format. The introductory module considers methodologies historians use to “visualize” the past, followed by three modules that explore the themes of Westernization, in Commodore Perry’s 1853-54 expedition to Japan; social protest, in Tokyo’s 1905 Hibiya Riot; and modernity, as seen in the archives of the major Japanese cosmetics company, Shiseido.

VJx will cover the following topics in four modules:

  • Module 0: Introduction: New Historical Sources for a Digital Age (Professors Dower, Gordon, Miyagawa). Digitization has dramatically altered historians' access to primary sources, making large databases of the visual record readily accessible. How is historical methodology changing in response to this seismic shift? How can scholars, students, and the general public make optimal use of these new digital resources?
  • Module 1: Black Ships & Samurai (Professor Dower). Commodore Matthew Perry's 1853-54 expedition to force Japan to open its doors to the outside world is an extraordinary moment to look at by examining and comparing the visual representations left to us by both the American and Japanese sides of this encounter. This module also addresses the rapid Westernization undertaken by Japan in the half century following the Perry mission.
  • Module 2: Social Protest in Imperial Japan: The Hibiya Riot of 1905 (Professor Gordon). The dramatic daily reports from participants in the massive "Hibiya Riot" in 1905, the first major social protest in the age of "imperial democracy" in Japan, offer a vivid and fresh perspective on the contentious domestic politics of an emerging imperial power.
  • Module 3: Modernity in Interwar Japan: Shiseido & Consumer Culture (Professors Dower, Gordon, Weisenfeld). Exploring the vast archives of the Shiseido cosmetics company opens a fascinating window on the emergence of consumer culture, modern roles for women, and global cosmopolitanism from the 'teens through the 1920s and even into the era of Japanese militarism and aggression in the 1930s. This module will also tap other Visualizing Cultures units on modernization and modernity.

The course is based on the MIT "Visualizing Cultures" website devoted to image-driven research on Japan and China since the 19th century ( VJx is part of an expanding set of offerings in the Visualizing Japan XSeries. We will be offering two new courses in 2017 and 2018 respectively, Visualizing US Imperialism & the Philippines (VPx) based on turn of the 20th century cartoons and photographs; and Visualizing the Birth of Modern Tokyo (VTx), a study of the “100 Views” of Tokyo. the new courses from MITx, which will accompany our existing courses, VJx and UTokyo001x: Visualizing Postwar Tokyo, by University of Tokyo.


For MIT students: VJx will continue to be part of 21F.027J Visualizing Japan in the Modern World, a residential course taught by Professor Miyagawa in Fall semesters.

In addition to MITx and HarvardX, this project is supported by the U.S. Japan Foundation, the University of Tokyo, and the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University.

MITx requires individuals who enroll in its courses on edX to abide by the terms of the edX honor code. MITx will take appropriate corrective action in response to violations of the edX honor code, which may include dismissal from the MITx course; revocation of any certificates received for the MITx course; or other remedies as circumstances warrant. No refunds will be issued in the case of corrective action for such violations.

Learners who register for an MITx open online course agree to participate in research intended to improve MITx's offerings and to improve education generally. As a part of this research, learners may be experience variation in course material. MITx may share the information gathered during an MITx course, including personally identifiable information, with researchers both within and outside of MIT. All disclosures of information will be in compliance with applicable law and will be subject to an agreement to protect the data being disclosed. MITx may publicly share aggregated data that does not personally identify learners, and any research findings will also be presented in a way that does not identify individual learners. Please refer to the edX Privacy Policy for more information and/or report your experience through the edX contact form.

Taught by

John W. Dower, Andrew Gordon, Shigeru Miyagawa and Gennifer Weisenfeld

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Reviews for edX's Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity
4.6 Based on 5 reviews

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  • 1
5.0 2 years ago
Anonymous completed this course.
This course gives insight in the modernisation of Japan after the 200 years of seclusion. It's history is fascinating and different than I expected and it is told by using images rather than text. You learn to read these images and appreciate them and they offer a window through time. Teachers are great (Professors Dower, Gordon and Miyagawa).
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Vicky P
5.0 3 years ago
by Vicky audited this course, spending 1 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
The topics covered are very interesting. I have not heard about those things in the media or other places before so it was eye-opening.
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Jennifer X
4.0 2 years ago
Jennifer completed this course.
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Kirill S
5.0 3 years ago
Kirill completed this course.
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Patrick H
4.0 2 years ago
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