If it weren't for Chris and the rest of the regulars (and some not-so-regular these days) characters at the Samurai Archives, I cannot imagine that I would be writing and thinking about a second career in Japanese history today. Goes to show you what having a solid group of like-minded people as your support base does for you.
As I prepare a couple of papers to present at the Society for Military History conference (and Chinese Military History mini-conference) in a few months, I'm reflecting a lot about audience. One of the papers, of course, I've already presented twice. I've gotten good feedback both times, and even had a professor track me down via email because he saw the Youtube link I posted of the first presentation. That eventually led to the invite I just got to speak at a conference on battlefield archaeology in Texas next October (I'm really excited about that one, by the way).
All of that is fine and dandy. So why am I presenting the same paper again? Well, both times I've given it, the audience was Japan/Asia specialists. They knew Japan, but weren't necessarily historians, or if they were, they weren't military historians. At SMH, they may not know Japan, but they know military history. What they do know of Japan largely builds on sources that were incomplete at best and downright horrid at worst. I think this will be a much bigger test than the two conferences I've been to so far.
Which brings me to something I've mentioned here on the blog before: I'm not sure if I'm a Japanologist who studies warfare, or a military historian who studies Japan. I'm also not 100% sure what the difference is, or how much it matters. It will be interesting to gauge the reaction I get at SMH and see where it leads.
Part where the above becomes a problem is looking at graduate schools for future PhD work. The standard advice is to look for professors that do similar work in a similar area to what you are interested in, and pursue them as possible advisers. That's great advice. But what happens when you want to do the intersection of a geographic region (Japan), time period (premodern, or before 1600) and a subject (tactical and operational warfare in social and political context), and no one at a university offering a program covers those three bases?
There are plenty of historians studying premodern Japan...who focus on culture or literature or gender or social class or economics, etc. (Professor A)
There are plenty of historians studying premodern warfare...of Europe and China. (Professor B)
There are plenty of historians studying Japanese military and politics...from the Meiji Period forward to WWII. (Professor C)
Professor A would be great to work with because they could help me learn to understand access to Japanese original sources, premodern social and economic structures, translation issues, cultural context, etc. They might not understand, and be tempted to push me away from, operational history of military campaigns and detailed tactical analysis.
Professor B would understand exactly the kind of history I want to write about, and would be a great help in developing methodology and conceptual understanding. They'd be little help in dealing with heavy Japanese kambun sources and would likely funnel me more into a comparative context than I want. Comparative analytics are important, but Japanese history should be studied as Japanese history, not simply as an alternate example of developments in Europe (yes, I'm looking at you and scowling, Geoffrey Parker).
Professor C...well, let's say I'd love to have that as a secondary area of expertise, but studying the Japanese Army in Manchuria of the late 1930's is actually more different than studying 16th century European armies contemporary to Nobunaga. Reading prewar Japanese texts is different than reading current stuff, but it doesn't help me read kambun, etc.
|Professor C is a Sonny Chiba fan|
I guess the ideal, and what I will look for over the next few years, is to find a place that has at least 2 of these professors, ideally A and B. And who knows, maybe Professor AB (a Karl Friday or a Thomas Conlan) is out there to be found at a grad institution. Sadly, neither of them are at the moment.
Oh well. I've got at least 5 years to figure that out, and who knows what will happen at conferences, etc. in that time.
More thoughts of a historical nature to come soon, I promise. It was probably a bad idea to start this blog during the holiday season, but it will start to come more regularly! Thanks for reading!