Tokugawa Japan-What’s the question?

So, again this fall I will be having students in my upper-level class (in this case Early  Modern Japan) do a group research project. The end of the project will involve them writing an essay in response to a pretty broad prompt from me.

For the Modern China class, the prompt was easy. “Republican China-Abortive Revolution or not?” Modern Japan was also easy. “Taisho-WTF?”. For Early China I had them read Huainanzi and write about it as the Outcome of Classical Chinese philosophy.1 What to do for this class? In general, framing the “big question” at the end is the thing I struggle with most.

Here is what I have now

The purpose of this project is for us to read some things (academic articles, book chapters and short primary source selections) that will help us to understand Tokugawa Japan. Each of you will join a group of 1-3 people Each of you will read one article, book chapter or short primary reading and write a summary of it for your group. Then you and your group will discuss what we can get from these three readings and present on them to the class. You will then each individually write a brief essay (basically your mid-term) answering this question.

The Tokugawa rulers tried to create a system that would prevent or least manage social and economic change. What did they do and how well did it work? How well were they able to understand and shape what was going on in Japan, and how did the Japanese people react to, avoid or revolt against their efforts?

Please note that this is a very broad question, and part of the assignment is thinking about a way to frame and limit your answer for the final essay. You need to think about your readings (and the things other people presented), probably do some research, and write a real essay that gives your answer to this question. You are going to have to figure out what aspects of change in this period you think are most important, or most interesting, or that you understand best.

As you might guess, my goal is to give them a question broad enough that they can fit almost anything they want to focus on in there, but still give the overall group discussion a bit of structure.

I also need to come up with all the little sets of three readings for the groups to do. I think I will do that Akō vendetta myself as a sample So the readings might be

-McMullen, James. “Confucian Perspectives on the Akō Revenge: Law and Moral Agency.” Monumenta Nipponica 58, no. 3 (2003): 293–315.
-Tucker, John Allen. “Rethinking the Akō Ronin Debate: The Religious Significance of Chūshin Gishi.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 26, no. 1/2 (1999): 1–37.
-The primary source stuff on the debate about the case in DeBarry
-The Keene translation of Chūshingura
That is four readings rather than three, and couple of them are too long, but it does give me a chance to present on secondary stuff and two types of primary sources.
Any thoughts?


  1. Hey, I had to read Theses on Feuerbach  as an undergrad  

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