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Photograph by Philip Brown

Spring Semester 2017

1. HSTR 145 "Reinventing Japan"

This course is designed to trace the political, cultural, and economic development of Japan from the earliest times to the present. Special attention will be given to Japanese relations with Asia and the West, both in the context of “cultural borrowing” and war, and how these relations shaped the emergence of the modern Japanese state.  Other issues addressed in this course will be the changing role of women in Japanese society, the development of the myth of Japanese homogeneity and the “emperor system ideology,” relations with the native Ainu, the emergence of Japanese business culture, the war in the South Pacific, and Japan today.  The goal will be to present Japan in a fresh light, one that emphasizes the diversity and contention surrounding the rise of modern Japan.

 

2. HSTR 484 "World Environmental History"

Recently, a prominent trend in science fiction filmmaking has been depictions of environmental Armageddon and its cruel aftermath. Whether depictions of the nuclear age in Gojira, or a tribal post-fossil-fuel existence in Mad Max 2: Road Warrior, or the exacerbation of social inequality caused by environmental degradation in Elysium, or the relationship between resource decline, environmental degradation, and fertility and immigration in Children of Men, or the fear of infectious disease and the menace of fellow humanity in a host of bloody zombie movies, films of the environmental apocalypse explore the relationship between environmental collapse, the erosion of civilization, and the human response to changing social and environmental conditions. In odds ways, with the destruction of the environment, humans become more natural as artificial civilization erodes around them. Regardless of the human response, however, the trigger always seems to be environmental decay and destruction, and the accompanying collapse of civilization.  In short, environmental collapse represents the chief anxiety of our age.

This course uses such films of environmental apocalypse to explore trends in world environmental history. In this course, films will be coupled with selected readings to tease out different meanings, tropes, and assumptions in the human obsession with environmental collapse and the end of civilization as depicted in film. In this regard, these films represent thoughtful critiques of modernity, with its assumptions of the human mastery of nature and our technological wherewithal and hubris. The films are divided into three categories, and you will write a 7-10 page paper on each category, analyzing the films using the assigned readings and other readings and research of your choosing. This requires a critical engagement with both the films and the assigned texts (we will watch the films in class, but you may have to rent them to revisit specifics within them). I am less interested in cinematic details than I am in narrative ones. Use the readings as tools with which to interrogate and analyze the films. That is, I am not interested whether you think the films are “good” or “bad,” or how many stars you might give them or whether the cinematography is effective. Rather, what stories and images do these films create, and what do they tell us about our changing relationship to the natural world?  This course explores world environmental history through the lens of popular culture, teasing out the possible environmental lessons that our deepest cultural anxieties teach us.