skip to content

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Part II | Option

Course Description 2023-24

This advanced seminar-based course will explore approaches to and topics in recent scholarship of modern Japanese history.

The story of the Japanese empire's surrender in August 1945 is well known but we understand much less about what followed this downfall during the process of “de- imperialization” and the reordering of East Asia after war. How did power and authority in postwar East Asia transform and what forces shaped the regional postwar 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? With the end of Japan's empire, approximately nine million people, almost a tenth of Japan's imperial population, needed to repatriate in one of the largest human migration moments in history and one hundred million Chinese were uprooted as well. The situation was anything but stable or predictable.

For too long Japanese, Chinese and Korean histories have been written within a national framework and within such narrow confines the larger and more important key regional narrative has been lost. Most Japanese imperial aggression took place on and around the Chinese mainland, not in Japan proper, yet Hiroshima and the Tokyo Trial are what is most remembered about Japan's war domestically and in the West. Precisely how the political realm was restructured in postwar East Asia and the impact of that legacy needs to be examined beyond the national history paradigm. Our overemphasis on national history and its connection to ideas of justice have blinded us to what was happening regionally and an acknowledgement of the fact that victors are not the only ones who write history or the history of justice reminds us of the ignored story of the history of defeat in East Asia. The legal restructuring of East Asia and Japan’s relations with its neighbours played a vital function in redressing former imperial relations in the Cold War and the class will also analyse those important aspects.


The course is a discussion-based seminar that meets in 2-hour sessions for 16 weeks across two 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 the students in the seminar. We will then hold a general discussion of the assigned texts, paying particular attention to research methods, theories and approaches used, the scholarly relevance of the works themselves and how they contrast with more standard treatments of the same period. Some of the seminars will be devoted to student presentations of their research projects.


All students are expected to read and discuss the issues raised in the assigned readings, and they will take turns in making presentation. In order to get familiar with the historiographical setting, it is also important to look at book reviews of the works assigned. In addition, students will produce one book review or review article for one of the sessions in Michaelmas, which will be followed by a supervision. By the end of Michaelmas, there will be an additional supervision, where students will be asked to define a topic for their research essay. During Lent, there will be additional supervisions pertaining to the essay, and the course will finish with individual presentations on the essay topics. There will be a minimum of four supervisions for the paper.

Form and Conduct

The coursework that constitutes this paper’s assessment consists of one research essay, of between 6,000 and 7,500 words, including footnotes and excluding bibliography. Each student will develop the topic of the essay in consultation with the instructor. One electronic copy (pdf) of the research essay shall be submitted to the Programmes Administrator in the Faculty Office so as to arrive not later than the division of Full Easter Term.


This description is subject to change, for the latest information, students should consult the Undergraduate Handbook available on the Faculty Intranet.