It’s been a while since my last blog post, and in that time, a lot has changed about my work environment and my research goals. Term has been over for only a few weeks here in Oxford, and it’s been bittersweet to watch everything I’ve worked on during term wind down and most of my friends go home, wherever that is for them. I’ve been trying to use this time to reflect on what I want to gain from being here in England more generally, beyond the time I’ve been logging in the Bodleian and what I’ve managed to do so far. I’ve also broadened my research focus to examine more instances of late-Tokugawa Japanese diplomacy and travel, beginning a few years after the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1854 until the official beginning of the Meiji period in 1868.
My name is Isabel Bush, and since January, I have been studying abroad through William & Mary’s Oxford Sponsored Semester Programme. Oxford, for me, is perfectly encapsulated by Evelyn Waugh in the first chapter of Brideshead Revisited.
“…I went full of curiosity and the faint, unrecognized apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.”
I found my low door in a wall one Thursday, five weeks into my first term, when I attended a lecture at Oxford’s Nissan Institute for Japanese Studies, entitled “Samurai Abroad: Photographs of the Takenouchi Mission to Europe (1862),” presented by researchers from the Pitt Rivers Museum. While the Takenouchi mission (1862), and its related Ikeda mission (1864) have not been completely neglected by historians, their significance is often scrutinized only as a part of a larger diplomatic effort by the Japanese government in the late nineteenth century, instead of as a Tokugawa-era forerunner to the empire-building of the Meiji Restoration. In 2011, the Pitt Rivers was able to mount an exhibit on the two missions based on their collection of ethnographic photographs from the missions’ stay in Paris. Since then, this research has been continued, albeit on a smaller scale, which led to the presentation that I saw at the Nissan Institute.
My research goals are to build on the Pitt Rivers’ work thus far, and, in gratitude for the help and access I have been granted, I will combine my individual research goals with those of the museum, in order to ensure that this collection receives its due attention. I will examine the objectives of Takenouchi and Ikeda missions in comparison to those of Meiji-era missions, and to analyze their successes, their failures, and their legacies in modern Japanese diplomacy. I will attempt to track the backgrounds of individual envoys in the missions (as far as my language abilities allow), and what their presence indicated about the governmental objectives in the early Japan’s reopening. Furthermore, I will analyze the imagery that was created about the envoys in the countries they visited, starting with the Pitt Rivers’ photographs from Paris. I will use these images to discuss the modern formation of Japanese imagery abroad, and how that imagery is consumed both outside and inside Japan to this day.
It’s been about two weeks since I have left Ireland, add a few more days and it has been almost three weeks since I left Achill Island. I haven’t had any huge culture shock, but I do greatly miss my field school. When you wake up to a house of fourteen other college students and travel to an archaeological excavation site at precisely 8:45AM for six weeks, it’s strange to find yourself getting out of bed into a quiet apartment without a mountain climb awaiting you. Results from the excavation site have not been released to my group of students yet, but the Facebook group said they will post them soon.
Monday, August 6 – Friday, August 10
The last week of Achill Field School went by in a flash. Besides the usual scraping back more layers of dirt and cutting further into the middle section of rocks, there were a few new interesting things for me to do on site. In one section of dark brown dirt running down the side of the middle rock section, Rory had me cut a square hole. He told me to dig until the reddish orange material appeared. Once we knew how deep to go, it was faster to scrape the rest of the dark brown strip back. Rory told us to keep our eyes out for a piece of pottery in the dark brown material because then we could plausibly match this context to another dark brown material present in another part of the site that yielded pottery. We did not, however, find anything. Something frustrating about the pottery piece found in the other dark brown section was that the pottery found came from a modern century. The modernity coupled withthe depth at which the dark brown material occurred means that the site is probably not Neolithic, thus not a tomb. There was still a lot more digging to do when the week was over for the eventual new kids, so I still hold hope!