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Uses of the Past Between Europe and East Asia


Special Issue of The Historical Journal (2021), edited by Martin Dusinberre and Joachim Kurtz

This special issue argues for a "history from between" as the best lens through which to understand the construction of historical knowledge between East Asia and Europe. "Between" refers both to the space framed by East Asia and Europe, and also to the global circulations of ideas in that space; and it captures also the subjective feeling of embeddedness in larger-than-local contexts from which many of our historical protagonists wrote. Those protagonists were scholars from China and Japan, broadly defined, who tried to make sense of their own past(s) by bringing them into dialogue with "European" histories. But whereas older studies in intellectual history focused on unidirectional translations and the reception of ideas from "Europe" to "Asia", our essays argue for an understanding of pasts co-produced across East Asian and European traditions.


To make these arguments, each essay examines an individual scholar or group of scholars engaged in the writing of East Asian histories between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries. Their topics, and therefore ours, range from the history of indigenous Taiwanese people to the problem of "multiple renaissances", via Japanese readings of Carthage, the problem of Qing empire frontier control, interpretations of Utopia, the articulation of a Japanese "Pacific Age", and not least the early-twentieth century study of "Japan's Columbus".


This special issue is the culmination of the three-year HERA-funded "East Asian Uses of the European Past: Tracing Braided Chronotypes" project (2016-19) between Heidelberg University, the London School of Economics, Autonomous Madrid, and the University of Zurich. The special is fully open access and the essays can be downloaded here


  • The Historical Journal, Volume 64, Issue 1 (2021)
The Historical Journal Cover


Transplantation: Sugar and Imperial Practice in Japan's Pacific

Special issue of Historische Anthropologie (2019, 3), edited by Martin Dusinberre and Mariko Iijima

Through its focus on transplantation, this special issue of Historische Anthropologie proposes a new analytical language for describing the history of the modern world, one that aims to sharpen historians' understanding of global "connections". We do so by examining the global production of the key commodity of sugar in the period from the 1880s to the 1930s. Our focus is on Japan, which might seem to be a somewhat unusual starting point for a history of sugar production. But as our essays show, the first state-sanctioned mass migration programme of Meiji Japan (1868-1912) was designed with sugar plantation labour in mind; and overseas Japanese migration in the period in question was in many ways defined by labour opportunities in the cane fields of the western and central Pacific region. In tracing these migrations from the Japanese archipelago to Hawai'i, Taiwan and Saipan in particular, we therefore also traverse the formal borders of the expanding Japanese empire during this period. In this way, we join new work in challenging the historiographical frameworks by which Japanese imperial practice in the Asia-Pacific region has traditionally been studied.


The sugar plantation, we argue, constitutes both an empirically manageable site and a rich metaphor for our interest in the migrations of people, knowledge, capital and technology. Through focusing on successful and unsuccessful examples of transplantation between plantations and small farms across the western Pacific region, we aim to bring greater analytical precision to questions of connection and disconnection in global history, and to offer a framework which might be of use to scholars beyond our own areas of expertise.


Our special issue features cutting-edge work from the field of modern Japanese and global history, with essays by Akiko Mori and Miki Tsubota-Nakanishi (both in English translation from the original Japanese), and by Mariko Iijima and Martin Dusinberre. An initial "Editorial" by Dusinberre and Iijima sketches the wider theoretical contributions of our essays. The special issue is fully open access and the essays can be downloaded here.


  • Historische Anthropologie, Volume 27, Issue 3 (2019)
    ISSN: 0942-8704
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Being in Transit

Special issue of the Journal of Global History (July 2016), edited by Martin Dusinberre and Roland Wenzlhuemer

“Where was the nineteenth century?” asks Jürgen Osterhammel in his magnum opus, The Transformation of the World. It was to be found, he says, in the European “discoveries” of new lands, in the naming of the world, in the “mental maps” of how the world’s regions were imagined to be interconnected, and in the relationship between the land and the sea. In the articles that make up this special issue, we argue that the critical sites of the nineteenth century, broadly defined, were the phenomena that connected these discoveries, mental maps, world regions, and the land and the sea: ships.

Ocean-crossing ships are at once obvious yet obscure candidates for the title of quintessential nineteenth-century lieux d’histoire. Their significance is obvious in the sense that they played such a fundamental role in the geopolitical transformation of the world and in its “shrinking” or its so-called “great acceleration”. Ships are of obvious historical importance, too, because they were always more than just material objects, especially when (again in the age of steam) their construction necessitated labour regimes and complex structures of finance that were industrial and capitalist phenomena in themselves. But their obscurity lies in the fact that, despite their centrality to the literature of “global” or “world” history, ships as historical arenas in their own right have often remained beyond the global historian’s gaze, featuring merely as “other spaces” in our work.

With essays by Roland Wenzlhuemer, G. Balachandran, Tamson Pietsch, Johanna de Schmidt, Frances Steel, and Martin Dusinberre, this special issue places ships in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries at the heart of debates in global history more generally. The issue is introduced by Dusinberre and Wenzlhuemer’s editorial essay, “Being in Transit: Ships and Global Incompatibilities”.

  • Journal of Global History, Volume 11, Issue 2 (2016)
    ISSN: 1740-0228; EISSN: 1740-0236


Hard Times in the Hometown

A History of Community Survival in Modern Japan

Hard Times in the Hometown tells the story of Kaminoseki, a small town on Japan’s Inland Sea. Once one of the most prosperous ports in the country, Kaminoseki fell into profound economic decline following Japan’s reengagement with the West in the late nineteenth century. Using a recently discovered archive and oral histories collected during his years of research in Kaminoseki, Martin Dusinberre reconstructs the lives of households and townspeople as they tried to make sense of their changing place in the world. In challenging the familiar story of modern Japanese growth, Dusinberre provides important new insights into how ordinary people shaped the development of the modern state.

Chapters describe the role of local revolutionaries in the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the ways townspeople grasped opportunities to work overseas in the late nineteenth century, and the impact this pan-Pacific diaspora community had on Kaminoseki during the prewar decades. These histories amplify Dusinberre’s analysis of postwar rural decline—a phenomenon found not only in Japan but throughout the industrialized Western world. His account comes to a climax when, in the 1980s, the town’s councillors request the construction of a nuclear power station, unleashing a storm of protests from within the community. This ongoing nuclear dispute has particular resonance in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima crisis.

Hard Times in the Hometown gives voice to personal histories otherwise lost in abandoned archives. By bringing to life the everyday landscape of Kaminoseki, this work offers readers a compelling story through which to better understand not only nineteenth- and twentieth-century Japan but also modern transformations more generally.

  • 2012, 264 pp., 15 illus., 2 maps, cloth
    ISBN: 978-0-8248-3524-8