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Science and Technology in Modern Japan (Term 2)

C.P. Snow’s famous 1959 Rede Lecture spoke of “two cultures” – the sciences and the humanities. Yet today, we are more apt to teach “culture” only in association with the latter, setting “science” apart on its own. This course is founded on the rejection of such a categorical separation, pushing students to examine science, technology, and medicine as both products and expressions of cultural history. It does so via the study of Japan ca. 1770-2000, the first non-Western country to “modernize” and struggle for scientific parity with the “West.”

What are the challenges in speaking of “non-Western science”? What role did an imagination of “science” play in shaping the modern Japanese nation, its imperial ambitions, and then its reconstruction after WWII? How did Japan’s rise help shape “techno-orientalist” stereotypes globalized since the 1980s in fiction such as Neuromancer and films such as Ghost in the Shell? Finally, in an age of climate crisis, what role if any do Japanese concepts of environment have to play in reconstituting the relation of humans to nature? These are the principal questions considered by the course, using a selection of readings ranging roughly from the late eighteenth century down to the twenty-first. Specific topics covered include, but are not limited to, acupuncture, evolution, race, public health, atomic power, microelectronics, and environmental policy. While focused on the Japanese case, the course also serves as an introduction to key themes and methods in the history of science and STS (Science and Technology Studies).


Coordinator:  Dr Hansun Hsuing, Room ER279, Elvet Riverside II

Further details of pre-requisites, co-requisites, aims, contact hours and assessment.