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About Visualizing Cultures


MIT Visualizing Cultures

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About Visualizing Cultures


MIT Visualizing Cultures

MIT Visualizing Cultures

MIT Visualizing Cultures weds images and scholarly commentary in innovative ways to illuminate social and cultural history. As Creative Director, I designed the approach and collaborated with some 20 scholars on more than 40 units based on the visual record of events in Japan, China, and the Philippines. My own unit, "Civilization & Barbarism: Cartoon Commentary and the 'White Man's Burden' (1898-1902)" was published in fall 2014.

The Visualizing Cultures menu groups units by author, image source, chronology, and topic.

Founded in 2002 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Japan historian John W. Dower and linguist Shigeru Miyagawa, Visualizing Cultures explores the web as a publishing platform enabling scholars to examine large bodies of previously inaccessible images; compose texts with unlimited numbers of color, high-resolution images; and use new technology for unprecedented ways of analyzing and presenting images to open windows on modern history. Publishing on OpenCourseWare, an early initiative to make all MIT courses freely available on the web, Visualizing Cultures negotiates with institutions to use images for educational purposes under a creative commons license. 

Pedagogy has been furthered with secondary school curricula commissioned for the site and teacher training outreach events. Image-driven scholarship was the subject of four co-sponsored conferences, "Visualizing Asia in the Modern World," at Yale (2010 and 2013); Harvard (2011); and Princeton (2012). A seminar is planned for Yale and MIT spring 2015.

Visualizing Cultures Team:

John W. Dower (Director)
Shigeru Miyagawa (Director)
Ellen Sebring (Creative Director)
Scott Shunk (Program Director)
Andrew Burstein (Media Designer)

visualizingcultures.mit.edu

But as it has grown over the years, “Visualizing Cultures” — which was honored last year with an award from the Association for Asian Studies — has become a kind of virtual museum in its own right, an addictive and visually stunning one not just for scholars but for anyone with even a casual interest in Japan and China and their economic and cultural interplay over the last 300 years...The site is a marvel of navigation, with topics and historical periods arranged in grids or in lists. Long before the advent of the iPad, the architecture set up to show the imagery and words gave a glimpse of how fluid, interactive and just plain gorgeous history and travel books would look in the coming world of electronic tablets, with links to essays, maps and processions of large, high-resolution images that scroll horizontally across the screen.
— Randy Kennedy, "Asian Culture Through a Lens,” The New York Times, 4/16/2010
Click image to view complete New York Times article

Click image to view complete New York Times article

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Visualizing Cultures Screenshots


Samples

Visualizing Cultures Screenshots


Samples

MIT Visualizing Cultures explores the visual record of events in Japan, China, & the Philippines. Click to enlarge. Ellen Sebring (Creative Director)

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The MOOC


Visualizing Japan X MOOC, updated 2016

The MOOC


Visualizing Japan X MOOC, updated 2016

Visualizing Japan X (VJx): an MITx and HarvardX collaborative MOOC

Developed 2014, updated for a new course run, Fall 2016

EdX Course Link

In 2014, Visualizing Cultures' content and image-driven approach was made into a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) in a first-time collaboration between MITx and HarvardX: "Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity” or VJx. view

Miyagawa abandoned his lecture and pressed on with more questions. He was pleasantly surprised that most of the students were not only able to answer the questions, but also willing to engage him and the other students in discussion. “When I finished the class without showing even a single slide from my PowerPoint, I could only ask, what happened?” he remarks. In the classroom, the MOOC material became a new form of textbook....“I don’t think I can ever go back to a pure lecture-style teaching,” says Miyagawa.
— "A MOOC sees its greatest impact in the classroom at MIT,” Office of Digital Learning, MIT, November 14, 2014

The course ran Sept. 3-Oct. 22 with discussions, polls and word clouds. An archived version of VJx can be taken at any time. Detailed scripting by professors John W. Dower (MIT) and Andrew Gordon (Harvard), with lead content developer Ellen Sebring (MIT) gave an image-driven structure to the online lectures and the courseware.

Sebring lead a team of MIT undergraduates to design and program visual assessments since the relatively new EdX platform had no pre-existing code for inserting images. The course had three-times the usual completion rate with lectures and visual assessments receiving the highest ratings from students. The MOOC also changed how Professor Miyagawa taught his MIT residential course in Japanese culture as a "flipped" classroom. [view article]

MOOC Team:

John W. Dower (Professor, MIT)
Andrew Gordon (Professor, Harvard)
Shigeru Miyagawa (Professor, MIT)
Gennifer Weisenfeld (Professor, Duke)
Ellen Sebring (Lead Content Developer)
Jascha Smilack (Lead Developer, HarvardX)
Michael Thornton (Courseware, PhD student in history, Harvard)

Japan historians John W. Dower, Andrew Gordon, and art historian Gennifer Weisenfeld, record a lecture for VJx at Hauser Studio, Harvard University, May 19, 2014 and June 19, 2014. (photos: Ellen Sebring):

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Exhibitions


Canton Trade System Exhibition, 2016

Exhibitions


Canton Trade System Exhibition, 2016

The Canton Trade System
And the Export Art of the Pearl River Delta, 1780s-1880s

广东贸易体系
以及1780-1880年代珠江三角洲地区的外销艺术

An exhibition developed by the Visualizing Cultures project, MIT, Opening May 2016

American Culture Center, University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (USST)
516 Jungong Road, Yangpu, Shanghai 200093

Exhibit designed by Ellen Sebring
Based on “The Rise and Fall of the Canton Trade System” by Peter C. Perdue
Edited by John W. Dower
Installation by Scott Shunk

This exhibition draws on artwork produced in China for Western consumption between the late 18th and late 19th centuries. Because the Qing dynasty exercised control over trade with Europe and the United States through the city of Canton (now Guangzhou), foreign merchants resided there under tight restrictions for six to eight months each year. Although known as “the Canton trade system,” the large Western trading ships never actually made it to Canton. They entered China from the Portuguese colony of Macau, and then hired Chinese pilots to guide them up the perilous Pearl River to the great anchorage at Whampoa island. From there they relied on small Chinese vessels to ferry goods to and from Canton. China had many products desired by Westerners, including tea, raw silk, and luxury items such as porcelain, lacquer, and furniture. The West offered little of interest in return. Led by England, huge quantities of silver bullion initially were exported to China, but in time the major foreign export became opium (produced mainly in colonial India). When Qing officials attempted to suppress this, the British and their allies responded with the devastating Opium War of 1839 to 1842, following which China was forced to open additional trading ports led by Hong Kong and Shanghai. Although some foreign merchants objected, opium remained a primary export thereafter. The visual picture of the China trade that Western merchants conveyed to audiences back home usually ignored opium, however, and relied on paintings and artifacts that celebrated both the dynamism of overall commercial transactions and the brilliance of Chinese arts and crafts.

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Kiyochika


Kiyochika's Tokyo, 2016

VC Unit based on an exhibition at the Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Kiyochika


Kiyochika's Tokyo, 2016

VC Unit based on an exhibition at the Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Kiyochika's Tokyo: Master of Modern Melancholy (1876-1881)

New to Visualizing Cultures in 2016

Based on an exhibition, "Kiyochika: Master of the Night," that ran March 29–July 27, 2014 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., this unit by curator James T. Ulak both preserves and reworks the window Kiyochika's prints provide on Japan's movement towards modernity. With the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915), who had fought on the side of the defeated Tokugawa shogun, retreated to the provinces for a hiatus of six years. He finally returned to the capital in 1874. Between 1876 and 1881, he produced an unusual series of woodblock prints titled “Famous Places of Tokyo.” These elegant views convey a sense of both change and loss strikingly different from the brightly colored prints of his contemporaries that celebrated Westernization in all its forms.

James T. Ulak, Curator, Author
John W. Dower, Editor
Ellen Sebring, Creative Director
Andrew Burstein, Coding and Interactive Designs