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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies


Dissertation (50 per cent of the grade) 

In their dissertation, students will be required to demonstrate research competence using Korean-language sources, and to conduct research that addresses contemporary and/or historical issues of relevance to Korea. Prospective students are asked to contact potential supervisors before applying to Cambridge to ensure that an appropriate supervisor is available.

One-on-one supervisions will be held by the main supervisors and will take place typically at the beginning of the academic year and in the Easter term. In addition, the required Researcher Development Seminar (JM1 or EA1) will help guide students through the research process.

Three papers (50 per cent of the grade)

Each of the three papers (a paper is an exam for which teaching is provided) is assessed either by a research essay of maximum 5,000 words or an alternative exercise agreed by the Degree Committee and counts for one sixth of the total grade (ie 16.67 per cent).

Please note that papers are usually only offered if there are at least two takers. Modules offered vary according to the staff available each academic year and the interests of students. Additional papers may be introduced. Please consult your potential supervisor to discuss the options available.

1. One of the following researcher development seminars:

Theories and Methodologies 

This seminar is held by supervisors of the MPhil pathway and external teachers, and is convened by one or two members of the department.

The theory and methodology seminar meets throughout the first two terms, connecting Japanese and Korean studies to various disciplinary approaches and theories. Students will also receive training on sources and resources, library searches, academic writing, analysis and presentation skills, writing a research proposal or grant application, career planning etc, and will have opportunities to engage in peer review as they present their dissertation proposals.

Asia in Theory 

This team-taught seminar is intended to expose graduate students to a wide range of historical, social and literary theories, as well as research and analytical methodologies. Readings will be taken from a variety of disciplines, covering a wide range of geographically-specific and comparative studies. Topics covered include: What is theory and how to do it?; Foucault; keywords; gender and performance theory; internet research methodologies; literary theory; historiography; science and technology studies; sociology of culture; ritual and religion; disciplines and genres; cultural studies; etc. There will also be research practicums to help students hone their research skills. 

2. The following core paper:

Modern Korean History

This seminar focuses on Korean history from ca. 1800 onward. It will allow students to develop an understanding of the major scholarly trends on this period as well as the most prominent debates surrounding Korea’s past. Hence, particular emphasis will be put on how Korean history has been written (historiography) and remembered (historical memory) by various parties, including Koreans and non-Koreans as well as scholars and non-scholars. Students are asked to critically engage with existing scholarship and develop their own perspectives. In addition, the paper will help students with their own independent research by introducing them to a range of primary sources (in English, but also Korean and other languages if students desire) as well as the most prominent archives and online resources used by scholars of Korean history. Students will also be asked to directly confront primary sources and evaluate how others have understood and employed them.

3. A Maximum of One May Be Chosen from the Following Papers (subject to availability):

Please note that availability may vary. Please discuss availability and paper options with your supervisor.

The East Asian Region

This seminar-based course employs a comparative approach. It concentrates on thematic and policy issues relevant to understanding Japan, the Korean peninsula, China (broadly defined) and Southeast Asia, as well as the role of the United States in East Asia. The course runs over two terms and draws explicitly on historical research and social science methodology in addressing how best to conceptualise ‘East Asia’ as a region. Topics addressed will vary from year to year, depending on the research interests of the teaching officers involved, but an indicative list of subjects would include some, but not necessarily all, of the following issues: the Cold War as a historical phenomenon; conflict and war in East Asia and contemporary security challenges; comparative models of economic development in East Asia and the role of "plan-rational" policy-making; the role of the nation-state and competing models of historical identity; multilateralism, the emergence of trans-national actors and economic integration in East Asia; political legitimacy, contrasting models of authoritarian rule, and democratisation as a political movement; demographic change; energy and environmental policy and technological change.

Historical Narratives of Ancient and Medieval Japan

This seminar offers graduate students an opportunity to critique and analyse Japanese narratives of the pre-1600 era and to work directly with primary sources. Students will initially be introduced to sources, methods, approaches and tools used by scholars in the field of pre-modern Japanese history and will subsequently read and interpret a variety of pre-modern Japanese sources, working towards an independent translation and analysis.

Classical Japanese Texts

This is a language-based paper for which you will read a variety of pre-modern and early-modern texts, thereby providing an opportunity to explore a range of topics related, more or less directly, to pre-Meiji Japan (eg intralingual translation, parody, national identity, news, popular medicine, popular Buddhism, humour, visual culture, graphic prose, etc). The topic (or topics), and consequently the choice of the primary sources, is decided in consultation with students as the aim is to accommodate individual research interests. If you are planning to write a dissertation that deals with the Meiji or pre-Meiji period, you will find this paper extremely useful as it will help you acquire the necessary skills for reading primary sources. It will also enable you to consolidate and extend your knowledge of modern Japanese as a result of extensive reading of secondary sources in Japanese on the topic(s). This paper requires previous knowledge of classical Japanese, obtained either by having taken Literary Japanese (see language options) or simply by having studied and mastered Haruo Shirane’s Classical Japanese (2005).

Modern Japanese Cultural History

This seminar-style paper will explore specific facets, approaches and methodologies of modern and contemporary works of Japanese literature and culture. Topics may vary from year to year, but will generally cover a range of works that have been produced within contexts deemed ‘other’ or marginal vis-à-vis the mainstream, and will pay particular attention to issues of social, gendered, and ethnic difference that these works present. Informed by feminist, postcolonial, and translational approaches, this course aims to broaden your awareness of the kinds of texts produced in Japanese. Moreover, by drawing on key concepts and works of literary criticism, this course aims to hone your critical reading skills and enable you to engage with key questions pertaining to identity and difference in the study of non-western literature. Taught in Michaelmas and Lent Total of 32 seminars and 2 supervisions.

Topics in Pre-modern Japanese History 

This advanced seminar-based course will explore approaches to and topics in recent scholarship of pre-modern Japanese history. The focus may vary from year to year but the coverage will sample Japanese and some English-language scholarship from early FAMES Undergraduate Handbook 2018-19 Page 31 of 74 Last updated August 2018 (version 1) history to the late Tokugawa period. The focus will be on the critical reading of a variety of narratives, which will be discussed during our weekly meetings. Students will also develop their analytical skills, write brief reports, and work on their presentation skills. Taught in Michaelmas, Lent and Easter

Topics in Modern Japanese History 

This course focuses on the process of '"de-imperialization" and reorder of East Asia following the end of the war and the surrender of Japan's empire in August 1945. How did power and authority in post-war East Asia transform and what forces shaped the regional post-war hierarchy when Japanese power and command dissolved? How were political and social stability re-established and within what framework, employing what ideology to gain public support? This is a discussion-based seminar that meets in 2-hour sessions for 16 weeks across the three terms allowing students enough time to prepare readings and work on their projects. The meetings will begin with a critical summary of the reading by one or two students, who will also offer a supplemental bibliography of western language readings relevant to the theme. This duty will rotate among students in the seminar.

Contemporary Japanese Society

This is an advanced seminar-based course focusing on contemporary Japanese society. The focus will vary from year to year and will cover issues such as learning and education, family, time, space and gender, investigating these topics from a wide range of angles. In each instance, the emphasis will be on situating the study of Japan within the disciplinary context of social anthropology and sociology. In the academic year 2018-19, the topic is ‘Religion in Japanese Daily Life’. The course is aimed at deepening students’ understanding of selected aspects of Japanese society as well as developing research and writing skills. It will involve working with both secondary and primary source materials (in Japanese). Taught in Michaelmas, Lent and Easter Total of 14 two-hour seminars and 2-4 supervisions.

Premodern Japanese Literature and Culture

This seminar-style paper explores facets of classical, medieval and/or early modern literature and culture. The topics and the genres covered may vary from year to year, but we will generally focus on early modern prose that challenges our understanding of literature and the literary. Attention will be given to issues that include the epistemic function of literature, intertextuality, multimodality, humour, and storyworlds among others. While gaining solid knowledge about the historical development of specific genres of early modern prose and reading a wide variety of primary sources in translation, this paper trains students to challenge claims made by secondary literature and fosters reflection on important methodological issues that apply to the study of written texts regardless of culture and epoch.

Modern Chinese literature

This paper aims to introduce students to the field of modern Chinese literature as it evolved through the 20th century and up to the present. Literature, whether popular or elite, has had a vital place in modern experience. In the first term, students become familiar with some of the major canonical writers and issues. Teaching in the second term is organised around a particular topic: possible examples are post-Mao and contemporary fiction; fiction and film in Republican popular culture; Chinese modernism. 

Chinese Texts 

Guided readings of philosophical and other selected texts from pre-imperial and early imperial China. Assessment by examination in June. 

War and Modern China 

The Second World War was an axial moment in East Asia. It reshaped the geopolitical contours of the region and it continues to have a deep impact on the historical identities of its citizens, the constitutions of its governments, and the high and low cultures of its societies. The focus is on China in this paper; it places China in the wider context of a global Second World War, paying attention to the fighting itself and the changes that took place in its nature to explain the rise of the Chinese Communists. But students will also pay attention to literature, the press, and film and consider the aftermath of the war, including the difficulties of social and economic rehabilitation and the way these traumatic years are commemorated today in public events and museums. 

Cultural History of Late-Imperial China 

This seminar-style interdisciplinary paper explores a range of topics relating to the cultural history of late-imperial China, including religious practice, print culture, literature and the arts. The main goal of this course is to introduce students to a variety of sources (textual and visual) and research methodologies in the study of late-imperial China. The temporal scope of this paper is the second millennium AD, broadly from the Song Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty (960-1911). By the end of the course students will 1) acquire advanced familiarity with key cultural and historical developments in late- imperial China; 2) acquire experience in reading and analysing a range of primary sources, including texts from the Daoist canon, inscriptions, local gazetteers, and literary works, among others; and 3) familiarise themselves with recent scholarship in the study of late-imperial China and practice reading secondary materials critically. 

The Anthropology of China 

This paper introduces methods and theories in the anthropological study of Chinese society (with the main emphasis on the PRC). Topics covered include social institutions; social relations and sociality; death and death rituals; food, identity and politics; space and place; language, society and politics; religion and society; ethnicity and ethnogenesis; Taiwan and Hong Kong; the internet in China; visual literary and symbolic analysis; gender and the body; globalisation; etc. There will also be sessions dedicated to honing research and analytical skills. Some topics can be added to cater to a specific cohort’s research interests. The students will learn to appreciate the value of fieldwork and anthropological theories in contributing to a deeper understanding of how Chinese society and culture work. 

Note: Additional papers may be available periodically from partner faculties, such as POLIS and History, upon consultation with the supervisor.