Finishing up

The final few weeks of the semester flew by, as they always do.

On April 10, we had a wonderful presentation by Dr. Erin Schoneveld from Haverford College about her study of the twentieth-century avant-garde group, The White Birch Society (Shirakabaha), and their coterie journal. The group used the magazine–a new format!–as a venue for discussing cutting edge ideas about identity and aesthetics, and the journal became very influential in early twentieth-century artistic circles. We look forward to reading her forthcoming book from Brill!

For the final two weeks of class students presented research presentations on a wide variety of subjects, including:

-the Korean newspaper, Manseonilbo, and its production in Manchuria under Japanese occupation in the Pacific War

-the role and place of illustration in China over time

-books about travel and place in Edo-period Japan (meisho zue)

-the production of a popular book in premodern China, and its afterlives in Japan and Korea

-women’s writing and the use of hangul in Choson Korea

-early Shinto texts and their interpretation

-the ways that the manga artist Tezuka Osamu referenced Buddhist ideas

-Serizawa Keisuke and his interpretation of Don Quixote

-the role of the printing press and evangelization efforts by the Jesuits in later 16th-century Japan

-books, literacy, and poetry in the context of 1980s China

As these topics demonstrate, our concept of “the book” has expanded dramatically over the semester to encompass all forms of material texts. We finished with a quick discussion of our “circuit of communication”–although because we had to squish it in on the narrow piece of whiteboard left next to the very large screen, it became a vertical column rather than a circuit! Ideally we would have a loop back up from the reader to the bookseller-publisher to complete it. In doing so, we thought again about how many people play so many important roles in the production and consumption of the book in East Asia.

Thanks to all the students and our many guest contributors for being part of this first iteration of a very wide-ranging and ambitious course. And to those students who finished their degrees with this course, and are now graduates, we wish you all the best in your future endeavors!

Keyword / whiteboard

Last week we had a session of lightning round book reviews–2 minute presentations followed by 2 minutes of Q & A. Afterwards, we brainstormed some key words about the book and material text in East Asia. Here’s what our whiteboard looked like when we got done:

Not very tidy but full of lots of great observations about the variety and complexity of the book in East Asia. Maybe we can make an even better diagram by the end of the semester. . .

Learning from Experts and Learning with our Hands

Throughout the semester, our class has been investigating the book in East Asia in a variety of ways. We’ve been doing the kind of thing we all expect to do in class–read books and articles and discuss them, looking at powerpoints–but we’ve also been really fortunate to have “real stuff” on the table every day. Books from the Ming dynasty to early modern Japan, twentieth-century Korea to contemporary anime have shared our space, as have some amazing ukiyo-e prints. (Thanks to the Kislak Center!) Each student has “adopted” a book from the Penn Library and is preparing a page about this book–these will be appearing soon on this site.

We’ve also had several guest experts discussing their specialties. Dr. Soren Edgren, Princeton University, discussed the book in early China and brought artifacts and paper samples for us to consider. Dr. Hyunjae Yoo, Research Fellow of Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University and Visiting Scholar in the James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean, wowed us with his knowledge of the book in Korea and talked with us about examples in the Penn Museum (shout out to our collaborators there, too!). We made paper with Nicole Donnelly from PaperThinkTank! and we learned how to make and bind Japanese books with Val Kremser, a conservator in the Penn Library (those are our books on the landing page of this website!).

Thanks to Dr. Frank Chance from the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Penn, we learned a lot about how Japanese literati painter Tani Bunchō used the illustrated book as a vehicle for representing his paintings to a broader audience. And Drs. Ayako Kano, Linda Chance, and Julie Davis (from EALC and History of Art here at Penn) talked about their collaboration in reading old books and their ongoing transcription and translation of a little yellow-backed novel about a vendetta–and Dr. Kano placed the book against a complex background of history, kabuki, and book publication. In Dr. Tim Clifford’s talk we heard about how the book in Ming and Qing China was used for those wanting to succeed in the civil examination service–this whole enterprise supported a large-scale production of books. (Dr. Clifford, a Penn Ph.D, kindly fit us in on his way back to his fellowship at the Academia Sinica.)

Next up: Dr. Molly des Jardin and Mike Williams will talk with us about recent acquisitions in the Penn library for the Meiji and Taishō periods (see Mike’s entries on the Unique at Penn blog for a sneak preview). And our final speaker of the semester will be Dr. Erin Schoneveld from Haverford College (and a Penn Ph.D) talking about the Shirakaba group and its use of the coterie journal to transform modern painting in Japan in the nineteen-teens and ‘twenties.

Soren Edgren discussing book bindings with us
In the Penn Museum with Dr. Yoo and Steve Lang
We made some books!
Looking at ukiyo-e prints
Puzzling over a Qing dynasty book with Dr. Clifford–what can the book tell us?

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Papermaking workshop with Nicole Donnelly

Innovations in Papermaking: Making traditional paper in a modern context

On February 6, we went to PaperThinkTank, the studio of master papermaker Nicole Donnelly. There we learned how to make Japanese-style paper (washi) from mulberry bush fibers, from start to finish. 

Nicole demonstrates how to scrape the interior fiber from the mulberry bush branches (kozo); this fiber will become the material used to make paper.

Mixing the fibers
Pulling a sheet of paper