Miriam R. Silverberg joined the UCLA faculty in 1990 and retired in 2005. Her scholarship on modern Japanese history is influencing the work of historians today.
Japan was the only non-white empire in the 20th century trying to compete with Euro-American powers.
Many of those who have worked with and studied under Miriam R. Silverberg came together to tell poignant and humorous anecdotes about their encounters with her at a two-day symposium on "Imperial Japan and Colonial Sensibility: Affect, Object, Embodiment." The event celebrated the work of its original organizer, Silverberg, including her recently published book Erotic Grotesque Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times. Silverberg was unable to attend the Dec. 7-8, 2007 symposium, but will receive a taped recording of the event.
Funding for the event was provided by the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies' Nikkei Bruin Fund and the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies. The conference brought together scholars from across the nation including some of Silverberg's former students. The University of Florida's Helen Lee, Stanford's Jun Uchida, Georgetown's Jordan Sand, Hamilton College's Haeng-ja Sachiko Chung, Cal State Fullerton's Kristine Dennehy, UNC-Chapel Hill's Mark Driscoll, Colorado State's Todd Henry, UC San Diego's Takashi Fujitani, UC Irvine's Serk-Bae Suh, the University of Chicago's Michael Bourdaghs, and Duke's Leo Ching discussed the Japanese colonial empire and its aftermath following World War II. UCLA scholars Sondra Hale, Esha De, Mariko Tamanoi, and Seiji Lippit also spoke.
"Miriam's students are spread across the country," Lippit said. "You get a sense of the impact she has had."
The papers presented during the symposium revealed the impact Silverberg's work has had on scholarship in modern Japanese studies.
"[This is] not just a conference for Miriam, but with Miriam," said Sand, co-organizer of the event with Tamanoi. "We have a very interested participant who is interested in hearing what you have to say."
After her retirement in 2005, Silverberg's students, colleagues, and friends decided to complete her unfinished project that was originally called "Imperial Japan and Colonial Sensibility" as a way to honor her contributions to the study of modern Japan.
Silverberg received her master's degree at Georgetown University and her doctorate from the University of Chicago. Her master's essay dealt with the massacre of Koreans in Tokyo following the 1923 earthquake. She carried her interest in Japanese colonialism in Korea to UCLA, where she encouraged graduate students to study Japanese and Korean modernity together.
She studied and worked with many prominent Japanese scholars including historians Fujita Shôzô and Fujime Yuki. Her study of poet and cultural critic Nakano Shigeharu, Changing Song: The Marxist Manifestos of Nakano Shigeharu, received the 1990 John King Fairbank Prize in East Asian History. Erotic Grotesque Nonsense examines the history of Japanese mass culture during the 1920s and 1930s before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.
She has encouraged students to think, read, and write critically and imaginatively, and to ask tough questions. Silverberg asks students to make the connections between history and their day-to-day life as well as current events, said speakers at the symposium.
Her work continues to inspire her colleagues and students. Several of the lectures made connections between current U.S. foreign policy and the Japanese empire of the 1930s and 40s, frequently citing Silverberg's scholarship.
"Japan was the only non-White empire in the 20th century…trying to compete with Euro-American powers," Fujitani said in his lecture at the event. He added, "we need to think about similarities" between U.S. and Japanese colonialism and imperialism.