Self-Introduction: Jonathan Dresner

I’m very grateful to Konrad for including me in this project. I’ve really enjoyed blogging in the Japan and China Frogs and I’m looking forward to this one as well. These are really ambitious projects, extending academic blogging into East Asian History, and vice versa, in what I hope will be very productive ways. These blogs have the potential to not just supplement our communications within our disciplines, but to bring new audiences and to challenge our conventional historiographical boundaries. For an example, check out the Korean-Japanese topics from the Japan blog.

This is what really interests me about being part of the Korean and Chinese blogs. I’m a Japanese historian by trade and training, but I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied, intellectually and pedagogically, with the conventional “national history” tropes. I’m particularly interested in greater integration of Korean and Japanese histories. It’s not just the frequent points of intersection and conflict (premodern migration, Paekche/Yamato cultural influences, Mongol Invasions, Hideyoshi Wars, colonial era; trade throughout history) but also their very different cultural trajectories. They faced some very similar challenges (Chinese empires, Mongols, the modern West; local/central authority, warrior traditions) and ideas (Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, imperialism) and almost invariably their paths diverge. I think studying those “choice points” in comparison rather than in the relative isolation of national historiography would be extremely fruitful.

My dream (i.e. a project to be taken up after tenure) is to produce a balanced and integrated Korean-Japanese history. One that’s not too China-heavy but rather takes China as a given that both societies interact with in different ways at different times. I’ve got a long way to go on this project. I already have started teaching the two countries together in my World History surveys. I’m taking a big step next semester: I’m teaching an undergraduate seminar on Korean History through Primary Sources which is the first step towards developing a stand-alone Korean history survey (if there’s sufficient student interest, which I doubt in the short term, I’d probably expand this to two semesters; I’ve expanded the China and Japan surveys to three semesters each). This will force me to work through the materials, gain facility with the history. I’ve taught Korean history before, as part of East Asian surveys, but never in this kind of depth. It’ll be a challenge, but I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m sure a great deal of my posting here will be in the form of questions and confusions. I hope that putting my ignorance on display (and, as Konrad notes below, the very name of the site evokes the limits of our knowledge) will not only draw in those who know more than I, but also embolden others to extend their teaching and learning into new directions.


  1. In his Self-Introduction: Jonathan Dresner noted:

    “My dream (i.e. a project to be taken up after tenure) is to produce a balanced and integrated Korean-Japanese history. One that’s not too China-heavy but rather takes China as a given that both societies interact with in different ways at different times. . . .”

    Jonathan, I think you are dreaming in the right direction, but I’d strongly recommend a dose of Wolfram Eberhard (_History of China_) before you go too far. My studies over the years have led me not only to appreciate the impact of China and Chinese culture, but of equal import, I believe, are the “peripheral” peoples of East Asia. The Hun, the Kok Turk, the Uygur, the Mongol, the Manchu, the Ainu, the Ryukuan, and so many, many more. They all play important roles, but were not benefitted by the writers of what passed for history–which is more than dynasties and nobles and wars. Moreover, who were the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese? Were they all homogeneous groups? We tend to look backwards (naturally) from our present perspective and tend to think in terms of a China, a Korea, a Japan, all of which have been amalgamated from many tribes and peoples over an extended period. Who were the Koguryo? The Ye? The Maek? The Okcho? What impact, for example, did Nurhachi and his predecessors have on Japan and Korea, before 1644? What of the steady Mongolization of the Koryo ruling family following the Mongol invasions of the Korean penininsula? What was the impact of the settlement of an important Uygur family in Kyongju, their enfeoffment by Koryo and why were they made Merit Subjects by Yi Songgye after the founding of Yi Dynasty Choson?

    Jonathan, you are right, Japan and Korea, all of East Asia, was a _gestalt_ and the fortunes of Korea and Japan have long been entwined whether you support the import of the _kiba minzoku_ or Gari Ledyard’s Thalassocracy of Wa or both and so much more. There are many, many key, “non-state,” players and influential minorities–most especially the pastoral nomads, the religious missionaries (and religious exiles), and the silk and other traders, all of whom played signal roles in shaping East Asia.

    I wish you every success in pursuing this dream, but encourage you to bring Wolfram Eberhard’s _rann volker_ along for the ride! Warm regards, Doc Rock

    Doc Rock

  2. You’re overreading my comments about China. Too many histories of Japan and Korea take the China relationship as central and under-evaluate the Japan-Korea nexus as well as other (as you note) vectors of influence. Nor am I focused on the state; cultural contacts and economic relationships will be, I think, clarifed by removing China as a focus and allowing long-term local influences to come to the fore.

    At the same time, I do think that Japan, Korea and China are meaningful, if limited, concepts, distinct and remarkably coherent over certain periods. “East Asia” is much more problematic to me as a concept than the individual “nations”.

  3. I would be grateful if you could recommend at least one historiographical methodology text. I am an IR gead student at Troy State. As I mentioned before, most of my background is in political science and I’ve been throught that methodology at the undergraduate and graduate level now. Since IR is a multi-disciplinary endeavor, I’m also interested in economics and history.

    Please email me at

    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.