In conjunction with the Cambridge University East Asia Seminar Series, we invited Dr. Ran Zwigenberg from Penn State to deliver a talk on December 02, 2014 concerning the topic: From the Ashes: Hiroshima, the Holocaust and the Rise of the “Survivor” as a Moral Category. Much of this material was focused on his new book, Hiroshima: The Origins of Global Memory Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
As Dr. Zwingenberg detailed, on February 6, 1963, Hiroshima’s main newspaper, the Chūgoku Shimbun, published an account of an exchange of A-bomb and Holocaust relics between a Hiroshima peace delegation and an Auschwitz survivors’ organization. The exchange, which took place on the site of Auschwitz, at Birkenau, also included actual ashes and bones of Auschwitz victims, given to the Japanese by their Polish hosts. This symbolic encounter, in which the dead were literally conscripted in the service of the politics of the living, serves as a focal point of his presentation. He examined the peculiar history in Hiroshima and abroad, which led to this encounter and followed it, concentrating on the narratives of sacrifice and victimization that were central to the postwar reimagining of the atomic bomb survivors as symbols of resistance and as moral authorities in the Japanese and international peace movements, and to the wider connections of this history to that of victims of the Holocaust.
Through an exploration of Hindu-Buddhist material remains in Indonesia, before, during and after the Japanese occupation, the talk investigated the nature of Japanese appropriations of the Borobudur and Prambanan sites during the occupation of Indonesia as it explored the religious and spiritual motives of Japanese engagements with the temples. Further discussion included decolonisation, the wartime activities of the Japanese, the cultural dimension of the ideology of Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere and its long-term legacies, as well as the problematisation of memory and sites in the post-war period.
Professor Annika Culver from Florida State University offered us a talk on the intricacies of looking at the end of Japan’s empire and the manner in which researchers must consider a variety of sources: art, diaries, postcards, oral interviews, etc. After the talk our group discussed the ways in which history writing was being influenced by politics and the need for historians to consider engaging in writing that offered the public various tools to respond.
This international conference aims to understand how political rule and legal authority were redrafted in postwar Japan and East Asia. The research presentations will shed light on a variety of historical transformations that occurred immediately after the surrender of Japan. These political, social, economic, legal, and military shifts continue to have deep resonance in the contemporary world and demonstrate new steps toward understanding how the dissolution of the Japanese empire both influenced and impeded post-WWII relations in the region.
We finished the 2013-2014 academic year with an excellent workshop from Dr. Matthew Johnson of Grinnell College, USA. Dr. Johnson spoke at length on his research concerning the institutions that make up the Chinese state in its shift from the late Qing, to the Republican government and into the early moments of Communist rule. Dr. Johnson is keenly interested in the manner in which governments develop organs that mobilize and coalesce inhabitants of the nation into a cohesive unit. The group discussed his findings at length, his research on Chinese media, film and education, and look forward to his forthcoming book.