BA (Alaska Fairbanks), MA (Reitaku), PhD (British Columbia)
Oleg Benesch is Anniversary Research Lecturer in History, specializing in the history of early modern and modern Japan and China. Before arriving at the University of York, Oleg was Past & Present Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London. He has spent almost six years living and researching in Japan, including two years at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.
Oleg’s publications and teaching interests cover a variety of fields, including Japanese intellectual, religious, and social history, Chinese intellectual history, as well as the transnational history of modern East Asia. He has presented his research findings at academic conferences and invited lectures throughout East Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia. Oleg’s recent monograph, Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan, was published by Oxford University Press in 2014.
For further information about Oleg and his research, please see his website olegbenesch.com.
Oleg’s recent monograph, Inventing the Way of the Samurai:Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan, explores the historical development of the ostensibly traditional Japanese ethic of bushido (‘the way of the samurai’). This book re-examines bushido as a modern invented tradition that developed from a search for a ‘national’ identity in late nineteenth-century Japan. Bushido was subsequently appropriated for a wide variety of official and private purposes in the early twentieth century, becoming a key pillar supporting the ideological structure of the imperial state. This book also considers the reasons behind the revival of bushido in the postwar era, when comparable nationalistic concepts from the imperial period remain largely forgotten or ignored.
Oleg’s research focuses on the historical exchange and development of ideas and concepts across societies, with a focus on interactions between Japan, China, and the West. Oleg’s educational backgrounds in both history and philosophy inform his major research interests, as well as his interest in interdisciplinary work. His work often takes a comparative approach, examining themes including nationalism, identity, nostalgia, masculinity, civility, memory, and authenticity. Oleg welcomes inquiries from potential PhD students with related interests.
Building on his recent book, Oleg is currently working on a new research project that examines the tremendous influence images of the samurai have had on Chinese views of modern Japan. The relationship between China and Japan is often described as being as ‘close as lips and teeth’, and has been marked by cultural and economic interactions, but also exploitation and conflict. The notion that Japan was guided by a martial code rooted in ancient samurai traditions became firmly established in the early twentieth century, and in China, the ‘way of the samurai’ was credited with driving Japan’s successful modernization before being blamed for Japanese militarism and the atrocities of the 1930s and 1940s. My research uses shifts in samurai imagery to explore the evolution of Chinese views of Japan over the past 150 years.