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Japan & the World, 1840-1912 - HIS00123M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Oleg Benesch
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

Japan’s transformation from an isolated archipelago to one of the world’s great powers over the course of the Meiji period (1868-1912) continues to fascinate scholars and fuel popular narratives today. The success and speed of this change inspired other societies around the world, especially after Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. An idealistic view of the Meiji period has also been used to inspire subsequent generations in Japan, from the reconstruction after the Second World War to the economic stagnation of the early twenty-first century.  

This module will examine this period of dramatic change through the analysis of primary sources and historical debates. Beginning with the challenges to the samurai-led order in the 1840s, We will consider the domestic and external factors that led to the collapse of the old regime in 1868 and contributed to Japan’s subsequent success. We will look at narratives of continuity and change at key junctures of Japan’s development, and consider how these affected various aspects of the state and society. This module will also consider how the prominent political, economic, and military events impacted Japanese society as a whole, and how new understandings of race, gender, and nation fed into the construction of modern Japanese identities at the turn of the twentieth century, and which continue to have a powerful impact on images of Japan today.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation;
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

After completing this module students should have:

  1. developed an understanding of Japan’s modernization
  2. a familiarity with historiographical issues relating to Japan’s development in the nineteenth century
  3. an ability to relate issues in Japanese history to global developments
  4. an awareness of issues related to the uses of the past in Japan today

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

          1. Japan in the Age of the Opium Wars

2. The End of the Great Peace

3. Ancient and Modern

4. Civilization and Barbarism

5. Those Left Behind

6. Who are We?

7. Japan’s Arrival on the Global Stage

8. The Struggles over Meiji Heritage


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 of the autumn term. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 2 of the spring term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Beasley, William G. Japanese Imperialism, 1894-1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Benesch, Oleg. Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan from Tokugawa Times to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Walthall, Anne. The Human Tradition in Modern Japan. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.