Saturday, June 23, 2007

We Take Requests II

When Hug the Shoggoth asks about one of the section titles of next week's talk, CitizenSE listens. And excerpts:

Westward Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and the “Opening” of Japan

It makes sense to begin a history of shifting American images of Japan with the expeditions headed by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 and 1854. But I want to start in the previous decade with the Mexican War of 1846-1848, for there is a direct connection between it and the appearance of the Black Ships off Edo Bay. Beyond the fact that Perry himself was a celebrated veteran of the Mexican War, I will go further and claim that the “opening of Japan” was made possible by the “winning of the West.” To see why this is so, let’s review the larger history of U.S. westward expansion over the course of the nineteenth century and examine notions of American manifest destiny that became popular by mid-century.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the United States went from being a small nation of thirteen states on the east coast of North America to a large nation in possession and control of much of the continent, including the noncontiguous territories of Alaska and Hawaii. Before the Mexican War, the largest expansion of U.S. borders occurred in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. What we now know as the Haitian Revolution, the world’s only successful slave revolt, made this purchase possible, as France lost interest in its North American holdings after losing the most valuable colony in the New World at the end of the eighteenth century. It took most of the first half of the nineteenth century for the U.S. to actually control the territory it purchased, as Indian Wars and Indian Removals punctuated crises and compromises over the expansion of American slavery. But by the mid-1840s, after the purchase of the Oregon territory from England, a border dispute between the recently-independent nation of Mexico (formerly New Spain) and the even-more-recently independent Republic of Texas (formerly part of Mexico) provided a pretext for the U.S. to start the Mexican War. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war in 1848 on highly favorable terms to the U.S., along with the California gold rush in 1849, gave the U.S. government great incentive to turn their paper purchase of what is now the American Southwest into actual U.S.-controlled territory, not least to have Pacific ports for exploration, trade, and projection of military forces and strategic interests. Although this process was interrupted by the Civil War and took up much of the second half of the nineteenth century, even by mid-century many American explorers, scientists, and missionaries had joined the whalers and traders criss-crossing the Pacific—not to mention Herman Melville, who published several novels set in the Pacific and Pacific islands years before Perry arrived in Japan.

Having reviewed this process of U.S. westward expansion over both land and sea, we are now in a position to appreciate how white Americans’ prior experiences with, and representations of, enslaved Africans and their African American descendants, American Indians, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and peoples of the Caribbean and Pacific influenced their views of Japan and the Japanese people. The Perry expeditions also relied on European, particularly Dutch and English, accounts of Japanese culture and society, which were shaped in part by their own histories of colonization of Asia and elsewhere. Combined with the fact that the U.S. delegation wasn’t permitted to visit major Tokugawa cities, it’s no wonder the earliest American representations of Japan focused on exotic landscapes, architecture, and clothing, on village culture, non-Western religion, primitive technology, and simple weaponry, as John Dower’s Black Ships and Samurai documents. They fastened on what their history prepared them to see.


Please tell me how to make this better! And, if possible, shorter!

4 comments:

Daniel J. Gall said...

Thanks for adding this! It sure looks to be an exciting talk. Still, I don't - quite honestly - see how you make a transition from the second to the third paragraph, from the second one to this -

Having reviewed this process of U.S. westward expansion over both land and sea, we are now in a position to appreciate how white Americans’ prior experiences with, and representations of, enslaved Africans and their African American descendants, American Indians, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and peoples of the Caribbean and Pacific influenced their views of Japan and the Japanese people.

I mean, the thought alone is valid, going from one ethnic other to the next, it's just that your second paragraph gives the listener a rough historical outline, but precious little details on what happened to these ethnic minorities, the Indian wars/removals (I just had these in class) and the Mexican war being the exception here. How about post-1850 California as a "free" state? Or the compromise of 1850 as a portmanteau to hold the Texas/California/Mexican war- tags?

Anyway, I don't quite see the logical connection between paragraphs two and three - I guess, if you want to make a transference from the construction of one ethnic other to the next, from Africans/American Indians/Mexicans to Japanese, a little more explicit information on the former would come in handy. Or do I just get this wrong and you go into more detail on that in the subsequent paragraphs? Sorry for nagging at such length...;-)

The Constructivist said...

Dammit, you caught me. I was hoping it would just slide by in a talk. I think if I reword the 2nd para I can make the connection clearer between the 2nd and 3rd. Have to do a little more digging in primary sources to try to connect the 1st and 2nd parts of the 3rd para, too. But since I'm not talking to experts here, I feel justified in doing more assertion than demonstration. One nice example from Perry's journals would help, though.

Problem is, I have a lot of material on the mid-20th C, which will be the audience's biggest interest, too, so I have to be super-concise in my two 19th C paras.

Off to revise further--thanks!

The Constructivist said...

Is this hinge less squeaky now?

"Having reviewed this process of U.S. westward expansion over both land and sea, we are now in a position to appreciate how white Americans’ prior experiences with, and representations of, the peoples they encountered in and sometimes even brought to these places—enslaved Africans and their African American descendants, American Indians, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and peoples of the Caribbean and Pacific—influenced their views of Japan and the Japanese people."

Going for the quick and dirty fix.

Daniel J. Gall said...

Is this hinge less squeaky now?

Yip. This is one long and more precise sentence now!