Rewriting Japanese History through the Renaissance: Studies of Japanese Intellectual Discourses in the Mid-Twentieth Century

Project: Research project

Project Details


Beginning in the 1930s, many leading leftist Japanese intellectuals from multiple disciplines began examining the Renaissance and some even explored a “Japanese” Renaissance of sorts as a moment of transition into modernity (between the 15th and 19th centuries). People have often regarded the European Renaissance as a turning point in the transition into modernity and have regarded its culture as the wellspring of modern humanism and individualism. Indeed, the Renaissance has inspired modern intellectuals all over the world. Few know, however, that modern Japanese intellectuals once tried to explore the idea of the Renaissance to inform Japanese history. Why were these Japanese intellectuals attracted to the Renaissance as a subject of research around this time? How did they explore Japanese history through the idea of the Renaissance? What was the significance of their inquiry in relation to contemporaneous discourses on Japanese modernisation? These are central questions that animate this project, and their importance lies in the introduction of a unique historical inquiry on the part of Japanese intellectuals as a form of critical practice in transcultural knowledge production.

To explore the central questions of this project, the proposed research will analyse discourses produced by Japanese intellectuals who were involved in studying the Renaissance. This project focuses on three representative figures who wrote on both European and Japanese history and culture: the cultural critic Hanada Kiyoteru (1909–1974), the Marxist theoretician and activist Fukumoto Kazuo (1894–1983), and the historian Hani Gorō (1901–1983). They all shared a common intellectual background in Marxism and began writing independently about the Renaissance in the 1930s and early 1940s. They continued writing about the Renaissance through the postwar period as well.

In this project I will examine these scholars’ work on the Renaissance by situating it within each writer’s intellectual trajectory and representative discussions of Japanese modernisation in both the prewar and postwar periods. The work on which my study will focus includes discourses on Marxism, Japanese folklore, modernism, modernisation theory, and people’s history. The resulting publications and presentations will demonstrate the political implications of the three intellectuals’ work on the Renaissance as a critique of Japanese imperialism, capitalism, and a Western-centrist narrative of modernisation. In introducing this unique and underappreciated attempt by Japanese intellectuals to absorb lessons from the Renaissance, the proposed project will contribute to expanding the perspective of modern Japanese and global intellectual history.
Effective start/end date1/01/2231/12/24


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