Digital Humanities Workshop - Session 3

Impact of the Digital on Japanese Studies

Session 3 - Abstracts


Susan Burns, University of Chicago

Mapping Medical Edo/Tokyo

In recent years, medical historians and others have complicated our understanding of the process of medical modernization in Japan by drawing attention to issues such as gender and class, the role of the state, the economics of care, competition between professionals, and the tension between the perspective of professionals and patients. However, to this point, little attention has been paid to space and place as factors that have shaped access to, the reception of, and perceptions of new and traditional forms of medical knowledge and practice. This presentation explores the usefulness and the limits of ArcGIS for doing the social history of medicine through a case study of private (i.e., for profit) leprosy hospitals in late nineteenth century Tokyo.

Japan’s first leprosy law, passed in 1907, authorized the establishment of five regional leprosy sanitaria. Initially, the Home Ministry called for them to be situated in places that were close to major population centers, easily accessible, and with a healthy environment. For example, Meguro village, just outside Tokyo, was the planned site for the Kantō institution. However, the opposition of local residents forced officials to alter their plan and eventually the sanitarium came to be established in Higashiyama-mura, a site near the border with Saitama which one physician described as the “Hokkaido of Tokyo.” How can we understand this “not in my backyard” response? Did it reflect longstanding resistance to living in close proximity to sufferers of the disease, a new post-Germ- theory concern for infection, or something else?

As a means for exploring popular attitudes towards the disease, I examine the historical moment that preceded the 1907 law. In the period between 1880-1904, private leprosy hospitals proliferated in Tokyo. I have identified eighteen in total, and at least two of these were of considerable scale, housing between 500-700 patients, among them a significant number of non-Japanese who travelled to Japan for treatment. I use ArcGIS to explore the place of these institutions in the urban landscape of Tokyo. Where were they located, what shaped their placement, and what might this tell us about attitudes towards leprosy and its sufferers?


Joel Legassie, University of Victoria

Can you Sing a Map?

This presentation will consider two interesting and difficult methodological and theoretical questions that have arisen while constructing a digital gazetteer of Ainu language place names from Meiji-era government documents and maps. First, how can we best incorporate technical skills within traditional scholarly research and pedagogical practices? And secondly, can digital tools help us better understand the contributions and full agency of people whose voices are appropriated or erased in official documentation, or do they simply amplify the language and structure embedded within these tempting targets for digitization and computational analysis? Discussion of these questions should be free flowing, but examples drawn from research exploring the history of information in the processes of modernization and nation building in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Hokkaido will be used to guide and focus the inquiry.


Jonathan Zwicker, University of California, Berkeley

On Scale

One of the starting points of what has developed into the digital humanities was a renewed attention to problems of scale: instead of the unique and the individual, digital humanities proposes to examine the ‘normal’ and the repetitive; instead of the solitary, the serial; instead of the close, the distant. This approach has produced a new way of thinking about literary history and an entirely new set of scholarly objects in which the book fades away behind the catalogue, the text behind the corpus. At the same time, many literary historians are still faced with the nagging problem of specificity: how do we make sense of this text in this location at this time? How can the distant be brought into conversation with the proximate, what does it mean to do micro history in the age of distant reading? In this talk I will explore some of these problems of scale by way of a personal library collected over the course of the middle decades of the nineteenth century and by trying to think about how some of the tools of macro-analysis can inform a micro-historical approach to the literary culture of Japan’s nineteenth century.