Catastrophic Japan syllabus

fukushima_01Course Description: This course is an introduction to historical study and the history of disasters in modern Japan. Topics included will be the 1923 Kanto earthquake, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, environmental diseases such as Minamata disease (methyl mercury poisoning) in the 1950-80s, economic collapse, terrorist attacks, and finally the recent Fukushima tsunami and reactor meltdowns in March 2011.

Course Goals: This course has three goals. One, to introduce you to the historical record of disasters in Japanese history. Two, to introduce you to the emerging field of disaster studies. Three, to get you to start reading texts of all kinds for the categories and concepts that a given text uses to think through a “disaster.”

By the end of the course you not only be familiar with major disasters, and the responses to major disasters, in modern Japanese history. You will also be able to discuss and add to the growing discipline of disaster studies, including the cultural, historical, social, economic, scientific, and even existential nature of what we call a “disaster.”

In addition to the assignments the whole class will do, History majors must also produce an original, final thesis of 6000-7500 words. STS students who do not wish to do a research paper will write three shorter papers (1500 words). See Grading below for the details for each group.

Required Texts

  1. Kai Erikson, A New Species of Trouble
  2. Brett Walker, Toxic Archipelago
  3. Murakami Haruki, Underground

NOTE: There is in fact one more required text but it is not sold at the bookstore–that would have been much too expensive. There are many copies available on and Amazon for very little. We will need this book by mid-October so make sure to order one in time for that.

Oiwa Keibo, Rowing the Eternal Sea: The Story of a Minamata Fisherman (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001). ISBN: 0742500217.


For History Majors

This seminar is for you to write an article length paper (6000-7500 words, not including footnotes). The early part of the course will be reading, short writing, and discussion together as a class. Alongside this work you will also need to be crafting your topic, research question, sources, and finally a thesis. These will be due throughout the semester and make up a significant part of your final grade. In addition you will be graded on short in-class writing assignments and discussion participation.

History breakdown

  1. Discussion                                           25%
  2. theory review paper                          10%
  3. book review of secondary source    10%
  4. first draft of thesis                             15%
  5. final thesis                                           40%

For STS students

STS students should use this seminar to sharpen your writing, analytical, and communication (discussion and writing) building on STS 1500. During the semester you will write four analytical and critical papers of roughly 1500 words each. The first three papers will be assigned. The fourth paper will be chosen in consultation and be a bit more substantial and more heavily weighted in grading. This fourth paper will serve as you final take-home exam. In addition you will be graded on short in-class writing assignments and discussion participation.

STS breakdown

  1. Discussion                   25%
  2. Three papers               45% (3 x 15%)
  3. Final paper                  30%