East Asian Uses of the European Past: Tracing Braided Chronotypes

Project Summary

The birth of philosophy in ancient Greece, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Holocaust: such emblematic historical moments have long been regarded as building blocks of a quintessentially European past. But how “European” is this past if many in the non-European world have claimed competing representations of it as their own? And how “European” is this story if many in the European world, in turn, have appropriated non-European claims in order to bolster their own sense of identity and exceptionality?

The Humanities in the European Research Area joint research project argues that emblematic moments from Europe’s past played a crucial role in changing perceptions of and attitudes towards historical time in East Asia since the onset of intensified contact circa 1600. In China, Japan and Korea, many influential actors, ranging from bureaucrats and politicians to students, historians and poets, appropriated idealized images of the European past to come to terms with their own experiences of change and prescribe recipes for action. Their appropriations of Europe’s past reshaped understandings of European and Asian history not only in East Asia but also in Europe proper.

As with our partners in Heidelberg, London and Madrid, the Zurich sub-project focuses on one particular chronotype (a narration of historical time). “Expansion” was a catch-all phrase for Japanese intellectuals, journalists and activists to position Japan’s engagement with the outside world from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. This was of course a discourse of space—into Northeast and Southeast Asia, and into the Pacific world. But it was also a discourse of time: scholars and journalists looked back to Japan’s historic engagements with Southeast Asia from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries; they drew on European histories of expansion in the eighteenth century; and, combining the two, they projected an age of expansion forward as they imagined Japan’s place in the world in the twentieth century. Our Zurich subproject maps the way that uses of the European past(s) and memories of Japan’s own Asian and European engagements came together in the scholarship of two lesser-known historians and activists in particular, and how the chronotype of “expansion” offers scholars today a more nuanced way of analysing the wider history of Japanese imperialism in the Asia-Pacific world.

For more on the HERA project as a whole, please see our blog: http://eautbc.hypotheses.org

Sub-project in Zurich: