Troost, Kristina
Duke university Library. Japanese Studies Librarian

Rethinking resources for Japanese studies: using realia in research papers

Students are increasingly being required to use primary sources in their research, but not all students have enough skill in Japanese to use Japanese language materials. Primary sources in English, although they are increasing, are not abundant.  Nor does every university have major art or print collections. This paper proposes to examine a number of examples of materials students in Art History have used in conjunction with secondary literature. While traditionally students did such projects as comparing photographs of Hirohito and Hitler found in books and using the extensive secondary literature in English to analyze their findings, this paper will focus on an assignment using realia (physical objects) found in the library and on campus -- kimono, vases, hina dolls, a sword, a tea house, pottery, photograph albums. Similar projects could be done with materials available freely online. Students were required to include:

  • visual description of the object and its material qualities
  • trace its provenance
  • contextual analysis of its production in Japan
  • analysis of its subsequent reception in the USA.

Students were encouraged to identify similar objects in other collections or groups of objects to which their particular object belongs. For example, the “Ishii Vases in the Lilly Library” could be examined within the context of Meiji era export crafts.

The course’s goals were to introduce the students to the diverse artistic production of Japan over the past four centuries through painting, crafts, print media, and architecture. By interrogating the relationship between art and its sociopolitical context, the course examined the critical questions of representation and power as well as art historical writing on Japan and the reception of Japanese art in the USA.

In addition to describing the projects, this paper proposes to examine the role of the library in providing support.