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.

Meiji-era Prints in the St. Kate’s Special Collections

Special Collections, St. Catherine University Library

I feel like I keep saying this a lot, but I’m often surprised about the treasures that are hidden in plain sight. When I first arrived at St. Kate’s, Heather Carroll, a graduate student in the Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS) Program, told me that we had a few Japanese prints hidden in the library’s Special Collections. It has taken us a year, but we finally picked a day to head down to the library to check them out. As we slowly lifted the prints off the cart, I quickly realized that “a few” was in reality MANY! I took study photographs of about 70 prints just this past October.

There are some exceptions (such as a few examples of sōsaku hanga), but most of the prints we found are Meiji-era (from between 1890 and 1899). A few different artists are represented, but we have a fair number from Chikanobu Yōshū (楊洲周延) (1838-1912) also known as Chikanobu Hashimoto or Chikanobu Toyohara (seen in the top example). Most of our prints at St. Kate’s come from a series about court ladies living in the Chiyoda Palace. As an artist, Chikanobu first studied Kano School painting before moving on to ukiyo-e, where he was a disciple of Keisai Eisen. Later he studied under Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi and then Kunisada. Many of our works have subject matter that hails from either earlier historical periods or from Japanese mythology, but we also have a few prints that conspicuously recognize the changing nature of Japan under modernization with red brick (akarenga) and the Emperor in Western military garb.

Special Collections, St. Catherine University Library

We are in the process of identifying the prints, assessing their condition, and looking for the original donor information. Together, we hope to figure out a better storage solution that will keep them laying flat and prevent them from curling. Long term, it would be great to put together some sort of exhibition to reintroduce these prints to the St. Kate’s community. We have some big idea, so stay tuned!

Autumn, Art, and Archives at St. Kate’s

It is hard to believe how quickly autumn as come — it feels like  yesterday that I was just getting settled into this office. Our campus is positively gorgeous at this time of year, and I take every opportunity that I can to set foot outside of the brutalist concrete of the Visual Arts Building to soak in the color of the changing leaves. People love this season here in Minnesota, but part of me does miss the seasonal tourism of Japan where whole streets would occasionally be closed to traffic for pedestrians to admire and take photos of the 紅葉 (momiji, maple) and 銀杏 (ichō, ginkgo). When I was at Hokkaido University, they would not only close ichō dōri (ginkgo street) for a couple of days, but they would also illuminate them with floodlights at night. It made the street look otherworldly; a dark sky punctuated by pale yellows and greens. We have some gorgeous side streets in St. Paul lined in vibrant shades of orange and yellow, and I so desperately want to rid them of cars.

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Looking across the lawn at St. Kate’s towards the Visual Arts Building and Mendel Hall

In addition to teaching art history and visual culture, things are finally coming together on a variety of fronts. I’m editing my chapter on artist Kondō Kōichiro to submit for peer review (a long time coming!), I will be guest blogging at the Art History Teaching Resources this spring on digital cartography in the classroom, and I will be presenting the third, and possibly last, iteration of my arcade fighting games and gender project at the Popular Culture Association conference (this time strictly focused on Street Fighter II, Chun-Li, and fashion) before drafting it into an essay. Classes are also now set for Spring 2017. I will be teaching Art History: Ancient through Medieval and Global Japan: Art, Anime, and Visual Culture. It will be such a treat to teach Japanese visual culture again, and based on feedback I received at St. Olaf College, I’m looking forward to reinventing part of my approach to teaching it. All good things.

Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, 1897-1898. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

I also had the chance to visit the Special Collections here at St. Kate’s and take a look at some of the material hiding in the Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection. Imagine my surprise to find a Meiji-era copy of Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, edited by Captain Francis Brinkley and published by J. B. Millet circa 1897-1898. There are 10 volumes here at St. Kate’s. They contain original hand-colored photographs by Tamamura Kozaburo and a few flower colotypes by Ogawa Kazumasa. When Denise Bethel was describing this work, she said, “[It] may be the last great book to be illustrated with original photographs” (1991). Harvard has a brief write-up of their fine art edition of the work that is worth checking out if you are curious.

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The Smiling Book, 1896. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

In addition to this great find, we also have a copy of a crepe-paper book called The Smiling Book by Hasegawa Takejiro published in 1896. I’m fascinated by this work, and I think it would be fun to work more closely with it in the future. Otsuka Nanae has written a few articles on this work and other period publications which use the same images at the National Diet Library: here and here. I can’t help but think that this small crepe paper book is in conversation with research that I’ve done regarding late 19th and early 20th century practices of borrowing and re-appropriating images in Japan. The second page of the work mentions American author Lu Wheat, and I’m curious about the relationship between this female writer (who published The Third Daughter: A Story of Chinese Home Life in 1906 and Ah Moy: The Story of a Chinese Daughter in 1908), the female collector Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch, and the content/imagery of The Smiling Book. I hope I can get back soon!

I have also been to a wide range of exhibitions as of late. All I can say is that I’m continually impressed with the work being done here in the Twin Cities. Exhibitions alone warrant their own post, so I’ll leave you all with this page from The Smiling Book

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The Smiling Book, 1896. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

 

Translation of Takashina Erika’s chapter on Yamamoto Hōsui’s Urashima

This has been in development for what seems like forever, but I am thrilled that my translation of Takashina Erika‘s essay “Sea of Hybridization: In Dispute over Urashima” (異種交配の海―「浦島」をめぐって) from the third chapter of her book The Sea Beyond: Hōsui, Seiki, Tenshin, and the West (異界の海 ―芳翠・清輝・天心における西洋) is now available and online as part of the Review of Japanese Culture and Society‘s special issue titled “Commensurable Distinctions: Intercultural Negotiations of Modern and Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture.”

This particular essay discusses oil painter Yamamoto Hōsui’s multi-figure painting Urashima (1893). Takashina’s research on this painting is exhaustive, to quote the editors of this issue. She painstakingly analyzes the iconography of Hōsui’s work that depicts the Japanese legend of Urashima Tarō to reveal deep connections and fractures between Japan, Europe, and Asia. Takashina compellingly frames Urashima as a complex and multivalent work that figures the ocean as a space of cultural hybridity, while projecting Hōsui’s aspirations for the future of Japanese modern art and transnational realpolitik in the Meiji era. Connected by a vast and primordial ocean, Hōsui negotiated an identity between Paris and Japan, and he saw art as having the power to cross borders through the sensorial and highly symbolic space of the imagination.

It is great to have a role in bringing Takashina’s work into conversation with other scholars exploring intercultural negotiations in this issue. Definitely check it out if you have an interest in yōga (western oil painting in Japan) or the arts of the Meiji era!

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