Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Mapping Isabella Bird: Geolocation & Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880) — A New Digital Resource

I can’t properly put into words how happy it makes me to officially add this link to Mapping Isabella Bird to the site. It is a project that has been in the making since 2015, and one that really came together in the last two years since arriving at St. Kate’s. I have long wanted to create a comprehensive resource for students and researchers studying Bird’s travelogue Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), and this website has a little bit for everyone–Literary Studies, Art History, Asian Studies, Japanese Studies, Ainu Studies, Tourism Studies, and Geography.Putting the site together reminded me why I became fascinated with Bird in the first place: her work manages to serve as a resource in so many disciplines and her legacy keeps on. The release of the site is timely with a special issue titled “Isabella Bird, Victorian globalism, and Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880)” appearing in vol. 21 of Studies in Travel Writing (2017). I’m looking forward to working my way through these essays.

Mapping Isabella Bird was built with Scalar 2, a digital publishing platform developed by the University of Southern California. I first learned about Scalar (then in its first iteration) as a graduate student at UC Irvine. The ability to annotate media made it particularly attractive to me, and I knew it would work well for this project. The website can be navigated in a variety of ways — through the path at the bottom of the home page or through the drop-down menu in the top left. You will find interactive maps created on ArcGIS, CARTO, and Google Maps, which build on tabular data culled from the books. You will also find an image gallery that is slowly being annotating with original source images (and if you are interested, I am always looking for help tracking these photographs down!) The website also deliberately highlights Bird’s travel in Hokkaido and the Ainu in the Saru River Valley today in a recognition of their adaptation and development over time. I remain committed to recognizing the present of the Ainu in addition to their past.

What’s next? I’m in the process now of designing some sample assignments using the various resources of the site for secondary and higher education. Some will be for use in Art History classroom while others will fit will into a syllabus on Japanese History. Many will be paired with chapters of the travelogue. I hope that the resource will be useful for years to come for others who remain curious about Bird and her Japanese journey in 1878.

You can access the project directly via the menu on the left. If you find it useful, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Essay Publication on Illustration & Photography of Ainu in Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, 1880

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my essay “‘Civilized’ Men and ‘Superstitious’ Women: Visualizing the Hokkaido Ainu in Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks, 1880” in the new edited volume titled Gender, Continuity, and the Shaping of Modernity in the Arts of East Asia, 16th­­–20th Centuries (Leiden: Brill, 2017). The book was edited by Kristen L. Chiem (Pepperdine University) and Lara C. W. Blanchard (Hobart & William and Smith Colleges), who were both awesome to work with throughout this entire process. Overall, the book features work by Lara C. W. Blanchard, Kristen L. Chiem, Charlotte Horlyck, Ikumi Kaminishi, Nayeon Kim, Sunglim Kim, Radu Leca, Elizabeth Lillehoj, Ying-chen Peng, and myself. Here is the official blurb for the book:

Gender, Continuity, and the Shaping of Modernity in the Arts of East Asia, 16th–20th Centuries explores women’s and men’s contributions to the arts and gendered visual representations in China, Korea, and Japan from the premodern through modern eras. A critical introduction and nine essays consider how threads of continuity and exchanges between the cultures of East Asia, Europe, and the United States helped to shape modernity in this region, in the process revealing East Asia as a vital component of the trans-Pacific world. The essays are organized into three themes: representations of femininity, women as makers, and constructions of gender, and they consider examples of architecture, painting, woodblock prints and illustrated books, photography, and textiles.

The book is the second volume in Brill’s series Gendering the Trans-Pacific World: Diaspora, Empire, and Race. The first volume titled after the series was edited by Catherine Ceniza Choy (UC Berkeley) and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (UC Irvine) this past March. Combined, there are so many insightful contributions to the study of gender in this region. My reading list is ever expanding.

I’m excited about my own contribution to this volume for a few reasons. The essay, which derives from the first chapter of my dissertation, looks closely at the role of photography and illustration in the 1880 publication Unbeaten Tracks in Japan written by explorer and naturalist Isabella Lucy Bird (1851–1904). She is often best known for her travel to Hokkaido and her time spent among the Ainu there. In volumes that contain the word “East Asia” in the title, narratives that concern the creation by and representation of indigenous peoples in Asia are often excluded. We need to do better in this regard to recognize their stories and images as integral to the fabric of the region. I see my research as a small step in this regard. But being concerned chiefly with images produced of the Ainu, rather than by, it highlights the need for more indigenous voices to round out these ideas of how indigenous identity was complicated and complimented by notions of Asianness in the Pacific. Personally, the essay represents a huge accomplishment as well. I wrote the first draft while living in Hokkaido, Japan, and it reminds me of my archival research in the Northern Studies Collection in the Hokkaido University Library. (It also reminds me of all the time spent in local Sapporo coffee shops typing away on my half-broken laptop). In the essay, I also take an interdisciplinary approach that I feel is representative of what I always wanted from Visual Studies. It some senses, the method taken is a culmination of my degree and my time at the University of California, Irvine.

I’m happy to answer questions about the book, the work, or the research involved — just #AMA below. The abstract for my essay can be found here.

Student Rocky Pierson is Presenting at Mechademia 2017!

This year I am thrilled to be in attendance at Mechademia at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. The theme this year is Science Fictions. The CFP explains this notion in the following terms:

Science fiction gives us free rein to imagine a different world, giving us insight into what in our own world has become naturalized and allowing us the space to question the potentials of technologically enhanced futures. The questions provoked by science fiction strategies and forms often provide insights that lead us to imagine our own world in a different light. Mechademia 2017 focuses on Science Fictions. Science fiction is central to the study of Asian Popular Cultures because it is the key narrative formation of anime, and the subject of many manga volumes and video game narratives. We encourage papers that analyze science fiction tactics and narratives to explore themes regarding the way the geo-political, geo-economic climatic situation has been reflected, criticized, and made hypothetical through futuristic utopian/dystopian narratives in anime, manga, art, design, illustration, literature, film, and gaming.

 

I won’t be presenting this year, but I am so very proud that my undergraduate student Rocky Pierson (majoring in Electronic Media Studies at St. Thomas University and minoring in Graphic Design at St. Kate’s) will be presenting her insightful paper, “In the Age of Technology, the West Calls for a Separation of the Ghost and the Shell,” that explores Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Ghost in the Shell in contrast to Rupert Sanders’ 2017 adaptation. Rocky makes a fascinating argument how each film considers its potential audience with regard to the fear (or emancipatory potential) of technology. Her argument engages in both theology and philosophy as she considers the ontological importance of the cyborg body in each film’s visuals and narrative, while questioning how each views the possibilities of the post-human condition.

If you are interested in hearing Rocky’s paper, she is presenting on the 3rd panel at 9:45am on Saturday morning (9/23). She will be presenting alongside Genevieve Gamache, Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, and Andrea Horbinski.

Gachapon & Middle State Publishing

For curious eyes, I just published a brief essay titled “Should You Pull?: Gachapon, Risk, and Reward in Mobile Gaming” with First Person Scholar. I’m trying to historicize plastic capsule toy vending machines in Japan, or gachapon, while also thinking forward to their application in mobile games as a monetary model. The essay brings together cultural history with some examples of application where the physical meets the virtual. I hope you enjoy it! I couldn’t help but to throw some contemporary art in there too. I am an art historian, after all.

Working with First Person Scholar was an amazing experience, and a venture that I hope to continue as my path through visual culture helps me to connect art history with game studies. FPS is a “middle-state” publication. Described by Jason Hawreliak, this means a hybrid publication that addresses two of academia’s biggest downfalls: accessibility and speed. When dealing with material that is fast moving, like games tend to be, these kinds of publications are invaluable for presenting immediate critical reflections in a timely manner. The essays do not go through the rigor of the peer-review process, but are vetted and edited. In many ways, I see the AHTR Weekly of Art History Teaching Resources doing similar work with regard to pedagogy and art history. Personally, I think we need more of this kind of publication in academia, and we especially need this kind of work to be valued. The art world moves fast as well, and it would be great if some weight could be given to these kinds of immediate explorations, essays, and critical commentaries. I know the change needs to come at the level of what search committees value in order to encourage young scholars to take stock in these sorts of publications. But I have to say that there is something intensely satisfying about a quick turn around… Especially when our work gets stuck in typical publication cycles that can take anywhere from 1-3 years time from submission to publication. By the time something comes out, nobody cares…

I feel energized — what an awesome way to kick off the Fall Semester! I’m teaching Ways of Seeing and Art History: Renaissance through Modern this time around, so more about my in-class experiences soon!

 

Photo credit: MsSaraKelly Vending machines outside a games shop in Shinjuku via photopin (license).

Constructing a (Digital) Resource: Isabella Bird in Japan

The summer is off to a fantastic start! It has been hard to get my head into writing, so I’ve thrown my effort into developing a new online resource using ArcGIS and the StoryMap feature that they offer for free. It isn’t live yet, but I’m close…

I have some experience working with the basic functions of mapping in ArcGIS through the Traveling Hokkaido project. I’ve got a long way to go before that work is done, but I wanted to make a resource more squarely focused on the various dimensions of a single traveler. Since I’ve been working on an essay on the role of illustration and the depiction of the Ainu in Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880) (which will be moving to proofs soon, hopefully), I thought this might make a nice supplement.

My goal with this is to create something that is accessible for audiences of all ages. The points I plotted out for Traveling Hokkaido form the basis of the Hokkaido map above, but I’ve gone through Bird’s itinerary and began plotting out her travel in Honshu as well. Although her journey is in two volumes, I am breaking it up into four stages: Yokohama to Niigata, Niigata to Aomori, Hokkaido, and Kansai. Each point on the map to the right is an actual location Bird indicates either in text or in her itinerary. For each pin, I am going through the original 1880 text and isolating relevant quotes that pertain to place, geography, specific sites, or customs. I haven’t worked with her first volume extensively before this, and it has been enlightening to see seasonal changes and her subjective evaluations of place before and after her time in Hokkaido.

In addition to creating an overview of her entire Japan trip, I’m also trying to conxtualize the importance of her time in Hokkaido. I feel committed to doing this in terms of Japanese history while also recognizing the current state of the Ainu in the Saru River valley, where Bird spent her time. I’m highlighting the Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum, the Kayano Shigeru Ainu Museum, and the legal debate regarding the Nibutani Dam. Too many popular writers only see the Ainu in terms of their “pastness” and it would be irresponsible not to consider their present and their future.

As I put this together, I am also compiling ideas for an Educator’s Guide pitched towards high school and undergraduate students. I want to give educators ideas about how to use this series of maps in their classes. (After all, what good is a resource if you don’t know how to use it?) I think it could be extremely useful in Japanese history (of course), discussions of Victorian travel writing in literature, understanding the role of women in 19th century exploration, understanding the role of the Ainu in these narratives, and as a way to highlight the geographic context for understanding earlier practices of tourism that inform our own “beaten routes” today.

A work in progress! I anticipate releasing the project in two weeks or so. The Educator’s Guide might come a little bit later, but it will definitely be done before fall. For now, enjoys the screenshots!

Presentation on Street Fighter II at Popular Culture Association

This really has been a crazy year for conferences/symposia. I will be giving a paper titled, “Chun-Li’s Qipao: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Fashion in Capcom’s Street Fighter II” on Friday, April 14th at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA). Our panel is Game Studies 8: Performing Identity. You can find us in Pacific Ballroom 14 from 9:45-11:15am at the Marriott Marquis Marina in San Diego, CA.

I’m very excited about this paper — it is the third paper in a series related to arcade fighting games, and a topic that I stumbled into after working on Ainu representations in the game Samurai Shodown. I began to realize that you can’t understand images of Ainu women in these games until you fully come to terms with one of the first successful female fighters in the arcade fighting genre. This paper adopts a slightly different approach than I have previously taken with an emphasis on fashion.

If you are planning to attend the conference, definitely be sure to register on the website. Once you make a profile, you will be able to add this panel to your schedule. Let me know if you are planning to be there so I can say hello! If you are from UC Irvine, there will also be presentations current and former people in Visual Studies (in order of appearance; if I’m missing people, please message me!):

Christina Spiker (graduated), “Chun-Li’s Qipao: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Fashion in Capcom’s Street Fighter II” (Friday, April 14, 9:45am — Pacific Ballroom 14)

Racquel M. Gonzales (current), “Policing Responsible Citizens: The Gamification of Crime Resistance in Children’s Table-Top Games” (Friday, April 14, 11:30am — Pacific Ballroom 14)

Kristen Galvin (graduated), “The New Music Television” (Saturday, April 15, 1:15pm — Pacific Ballroom 17)

Erik Watschke (graduated), “He Made the Whole World Laugh and Cry: Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin (1992) and the New Hollywood Mythologizing of the Early Film Artist” (Saturday, April 15, 1:15pm — La Costa)

Catherine L. Benamou (current professor), “From Joints to Jukeboxes’: Orson Welles and Afro-diasporic Culture as a Conduit for Inter-American Solidarity During World War II” (Saturday, April 15, 1:15pm — La Costa)

Presentation at the 2nd Annual Art Historians of the Twin Cities Symposium

Very happy to be presenting some brand new work on Saturday, April 1 at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) for the 2nd Annual Art Historians of the Twin Cities Symposium from 10am-3pm. The Art and Art History Department at St. Kate’s is a co-sponsor of this event that showcases the current research of local and regional scholars of art history. This will be my second time presenting in the company of these amazing scholars. The event is free and open to the public, so if you are local it might be a fun way to see what art historians in the greater metro area are doing. I’m slightly biased, but totally looking forward to a presentation by my former office mate from St. Olaf College, Christopher Tradowsky. Students currently taking my course on Global Japan: Art, Anime, and Visual Culture should take note of the presentation by Frenchy Lunning.

I was so excited that the student designer at MCAD used some of my archival photographs of The Smiling Book for the symposium poster. Some readers might recall me writing about this discovery on this blog a few months ago. My presentation titled “The Texture of Crepe: Western Women and the Conoisseurship of Japanese Crepe Paper Books (chirimenbon)” will be a meditation on the value of digging locally and the medium of crepe paper in Japan as it pertains to the role of Western women in collecting and connoisseurship. This work is very new to me, and the first project in a while that doesn’t deal with race and representation in Japan. However, it does stick with the timeline of my dissertation (late 19th century).

Can’t wait!

Presentation at Global Digital Humanities Symposium

Time flies not when you are having fun, but when midterm season is approaching! In light of exam craziness, I’m quite excited to be giving a lightning paper next week at the Global Digital Humanities Symposium at Michigan State University. While I have been pretty involved in digital humanities since I was a graduate student, I don’t often get a chance to come together with people across disciplines who incorporate these kinds of methodologies into their research and pedagogy. The techie in me is jazzed to learning about new tools or new applications of tools that I already use.

The paper is titled “Mapping the Northern Frontier: Geo-Spatial Visualization and the Exploration of Indigenous Culture in Japan.” In a nutshell, I will be talking about how the mapping tool ArcGIS can be used to compare the routes taken by travelers in Hokkaido during the Meiji period (1868-1912) to learn new information about the Ainu villages that became tourist staples later in Hokkaido’s history. However, I think this approach has vast implications for art history. Ainu visual artifacts are scattered across US, European, and Japanese museums. In the future, I would like to layer the routes of prominent travelers/collectors/anthropologists with metadata about these visual objects and where they were found. From the experimenting that I’ve been doing, I think it can paint a rich picture about how visual culture moves through geographic space and give valuable data about which Ainu villages and regions are over-represented in the history in a way that gets beyond mere anecdotal evidence. I am hopeful that such a tool will permit us to compare the narratives of travelers (some of whom highly exaggerated the uniqueness of their itineraries), and that it will give us a chance to compare regional styles and go beyond a “monolithic” understanding of Ainu culture during that time. In sum, it paints a more dynamic picture of the visual cultural landscape.

If you are in Michigan and interested, the two-day symposium begins on March 16th at 11:30pm. My panel on mapping begins at 2:05pm.

Gender and Race in Street Fighter II and Samurai Shodown: Presentation at Mechademia

I am continuing my journey down the rabbit hole of Japanese arcade fighting games with a presentation at Mechademia: Conference on Asian Popular Cultures at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. The program is forthcoming, but I will be presenting “Fighting Stereotypes: Reimagining Gender and Race in Street Fighter II (1991) and Samurai Shodown (1993)” on September 25th. Our panel is on the Global and Local, and runs from 10-12pm.

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I have had a personal goal of participating in Mechademia in some way, shape, or form ever since I began teaching Japanese visual culture. My students at both UC Irvine and St. Olaf College took well to the myriad essays found in the Mechademia series, which I hear they are rebooting with Mechademia 2.0, Volume 1 of the Second Arc on “Childhood.” I find many of the readings to be accessible to undergraduates, and they went a long way in offering alternative interpretations of the works we were screening in class. I hope that I will have an opportunity to use the series as a resource here at St. Kate’s. Regardless, it scares me to think that I’ve been reading essays from Mechademia since just before I entered graduate school… How time flies… Has it really been that long?

While my paper at Console-ing Passions focused primarily on Ainu representation in Samurai Shodown and its relationship to indigenous activism through the 1990s, the work I am presenting at Mechademia explores a different avenue of inquiry (although Nakoruru, Rimururu, and Mamahaha will still make a significant appearance). My preliminary research on arcade fighting games in Japan taught me one important lesson: there isn’t too much work being done in that arena. But games like Street Fighter II have so much potential to explore as both domestic and international products. While playing at world-building (and, in some cases, destroying), they also negotiate notions of gender and race with combat strength and Cold War politics. My paper will take a look at the image of Chun-Li in Street Figher II and Nakoruru of Samurai Shodown in an effort to start a conversation about the aesthetics of race and gender in the genre. It is an invigorating break from editing this chapter on the 19th century. So for now, I leave you with this epic image of Chun-Li about to kick butt as only she knows how.

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New Appointment: Visiting Assistant Professor at St. Catherine University

St. Catherine University LogoI was waiting for my official appointment letter to come through before posting this, but beginning this fall, I will be a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m so thrilled to continue this journey in the Midwest, and to be working with the students of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences at St. Kate’s. After a wonderful year in Northfield at St. Olaf College, I’m curious what it will be like to experience city life once again. One thing is for sure — there are real benefits to teaching art history closer to the cultural center of action. It will also benefit my research to be closer to the libraries at the University of Minnesota.
I will be teaching four survey-level courses in art history and visual culture: Introduction to Art History: Ancient to Medieval, Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to Modern, Ways of Seeing, and Global Contemporary Art. I’m excited to bring a more global perspective to the team in Art and Art History, and encourage a more socially engaged kind of art history practice!

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