A Professor's View (2004)
Susan Smulyan, Professor, Department of American Civilization, Brown University
I first saw the scroll "A Request for a Good Relationship" during a visit to Brown University by Professor Masako Notoji of Tokyo University. Professor Notoji had asked to tour sites related to Matthew Perry, in Newport, Rhode Island. Jean Wood, Office Manager, Department of American Civilization, searching for something on campus that might also interest Professor Notoji, called the John Hay Library to inquire whether they had any Perry material. Peter Harrington, Curator of the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, kindly offered to show Professor Notoji the considerable collection of documents relating to Perry. When Professor Notoji failed to appear for her next appointment, I went searching for her at the library and she excitedly showed me this scroll, explaining its rarity and great beauty.
Since that visit, in April 2000, I have wanted to base a course on the scroll and allow students to think about how to use such a document in studying the relationship between the U.S. and Japan. After visiting Japan as a delegate from the American Studies Association to the Japanese Association of American Studies, I thought I was ready to offer such a course.
In January 2003, eight students and I began a seminar entitled "From Perry to Pokemon: The United States in Japan and Japan in the United States." In our third class, we visited the Hay to look at the scroll. I wanted the students to see the images as the earliest in a series of reciprocal interactions between the two countries and so, while their first assignment was to read about Perry and write about the scroll images, we went on to examine a variety of subjects during the rest of the semester. The syllabus for the course is available on this web site. Students wrote final papers on a wide range of subjects including the cultural productions of Japanese-Americans in the internment camps; the United States reaction to Japanese anime; the television program "Iron Chef"; Nintendo; and Japanese television programs that featured Westerners, particularly Americans.
As a historian, I hoped the scroll images would help students think historically about a subject, US-Japanese cultural relations, that is often discussed only in the present tense. Despite the fact that most of them were not history or even American Studies majors, the students entered into the idea of the class, and the examination of the scroll, whole-heartedly. Their essays, which are available adjacent to the scroll images, were written, subject to peer critiques, and rewritten. This website results from their interesting work.
In the end, one student, Heather Velez, stayed on to work unceasingly on this project for another summer and an additional semester. Heather wrote the catalog descriptions of each scroll image and of the Heine lithographs; chose the excerpts from the written sources that appear here; and coordinated the project. Well-fueled by caffeine, Heather's hard work is a testament to what college students can do when they take on a project. I learned a lot from her research and insights and deeply know that the website wouldn't exist without her.
When I tried to figure out how to allow the students access to the scroll images in order to write their essays and how to make their essays available for the class to read, I had the good fortune to meet Patrick Yott, of the Brown University Library's Center for Digital Initiatives. Patrick entered into this project wholeheartedly, seeing immediately that it fit with the Center's mission both to produce digital materials for use in scholarship and teaching and to digitize "signature collections" from Brown's Special Collections. Combining approaches from library science and new media with a deep knowledge of what was happening in similar web sites efforts around the country, Patrick and others at the Center, designed the web site, ensured that we included the crucial metadata about the digital documents, found new materials (including one of the Heine images) at other libraries, and made the web site possible. New media has deepened and extended the collaborations among librarians, historians, teachers, and students in ways that have benefitted both scholarship and pedagogy.
I see this website as something between a pedagogical tool and a scholarly research project. Faculty are told to "publish or perish" and while web publishing doesn't yet fit most definitions of publishing, and work on courses is not usually considered publishable, somehow this website (and many others around the country) seem hybrids that will change the definition of scholarly publication to include forms that might combine a literature of pedagogy, web-based publication, and scholarly research. I hope so.