Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Learning History From Anime

Time and again I have been struck by the paucity of English-language writing on a major historical subject. Large patches of German history, for instance, like the Peasants' War, or the 1918 Revolution, or the history of the Federal Republic. And while World War II can seem the most thoroughly exhausted of historical subjects, very little seems to have been written about the Italian armed forces' performance and role in that conflict.

No less surprising is the scarcity of historiography about Japan. The obsessive interest in the country in the United States during the '80s does not seem to have extended to an interest in the country's history--a testament to the superficiality of that interest, and of the "expertise" on the country so highly touted at the time. Unsurprisingly, the American anime fan who finds themselves intrigued by a subject like the Warring States period, or the Bakumatsu era, who would like to know more about the career of Oda Nobunaga, or what the Shinsengumi were really like, has very few sources to which they can turn.1

That being the case with Japan, with its prominent place in world affairs during the last century, one can only imagine the scarcity of substantive information about other, less-prominent, less-studied societies--and what weak stuff must pass for expertise on their cultures.

Such is the distance between hype and reality in this "information age."

1. There is only one book about the Shinsengumi available in English, published just this year.

The "Experts" on Japan in the '80s, China Today

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