Into Modernity

Into Modernity

Fred Notehelfer and Carol Gluck (Harry Harootunian not pictured).
(Photo by Vincent Lim)

Historians Harry Harootunian, Carol Gluck and Fred Notehelfer offer views on modernity and its development in Japan.

We don't talk about paths to modernity—that's a very confining notion.

Students and scholars crowded inside the UCLA History Department Conference room on Feb. 5, 2007, to hear three leading Japanese historians discuss problems inherent in locating the idea of modernity within Japanese history. The panelists offered context for understanding and critiquing contemporary theories of Japanese modernity. The lecture, entitled "Paths to Modernity: Japan and the West," was co-sponsored by the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies (CJS) and the Center for Social Theory and Comparative History (CSTCH).

The title came under scrutiny.

"We don't talk about paths to modernity—that's a very confining notion," said Carol Gluck, a historian at Columbia University. Gluck observed that "path" suggests a series of developments that lead countries into modernity, as well as a specific point in time when modernity begins in Japan.

Harry Harootunian, a professor of East Asian studies and history at New York University, provided a political and cultural context for modernity in postwar and Cold War Japan. Fred Notehelfer, director of the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, concluded the presentation by analyzing and critiquing the various theories about Japanese modernity. Panelists fielded questions from the audience at the end of the event.

Among those in attendance at the event were Asia Institute Director R. Bin Wong and Center for India and South Asia Director Sanjay Subramanian; Subramanian and Dushu Editor (Beijing) Wang Hui spoke at the CSTCH's first colloquium series talk of the 2007 calendar year: "Paths to Modernity: China and India." The CSTCH's biweekly colloquium series runs every other Monday during the Winter and Spring quarters, and this year the series focuses on the emergence of Asia.

The CSTCH and the CJS are co-sponsoring another colloquium on May 21 entitled "Japan and East Asia: Still a Special Path?"

An audio recording of the Feb. 5 discussion will become available online in the coming weeks, courtesy of the CSTCH.

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2007