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.

Presentation at Art Historians of the Twin Cities Symposium

art_history_symposiumI am thrilled to present some of the work I’ve been doing on Japanese artist Kondō Kōichiro at the Art Historians of the Twin Cities symposium this April 2nd (Saturday). I’ll be exploring the work of Kondō Kōichiro, who traveled to Hokkaido in 1917 and depicted the Ainu in the village of Shiraoi in manga caricatures published the same year in the Yomiuri Newspaper. Kondō’s work gives us an interesting look at the role of tourism in these indigenous communities, and from the perspective of a tourist, his visual representations are quite different from any “ethnographic” work being done in the area! Although the project originally derives from the 4th chapter of my dissertation, I will be working out some new ideas and approaches to his material that I developed after coming to St. Olaf College. It is like revisiting an old friend! If you are in the area, please feel free to join us to hear about what Art Historians in the Twin Cities are up to! There are a lot of exciting papers, and it is a great opportunity to hear about the research of many local art historians.

Date: April 2nd, 2016

Time: 10am – 3pm

Location: St. Catherine’s University, Visual Arts Building, Room 102, 2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul, MN

Sustainability Weeks?

sw06_1Hokkaido University is just wrapping up Sustainability Weeks (サステナビリティ・ウィーク), which sponsors events and lectures over the course of several months dedicated to the theme of “sustainability” in society and in the academy. The official description from the website reads:

Sustainability Weeks (SW) is a campaign hosted by Hokkaido University with the aim of promoting research and education to help create a sustainable society. The assembly of more than 6,000 researchers, educators, students, and citizens from home and abroad during the two weeks of SW to share and discuss the latest scientific knowledge in the form of symposium, workshop and various exhibitions will enable us to identify the next steps toward a better future.

Even though the term is most often heard in environmental or economic discourse, the events during Sustainability Week are separated (and cross-listed) between four categories: Learning for the Future, Quality of Life, Harmony with Nature, and then a yearly theme (this year’s theme is “Education for Sustainable Development”). These headings seem to invite a kind of feel-good gathering around the campfire, but I actually think that there is something really important to discussing sustainability within the University and Humanities, especially in light of practices that cannot keep pace with changes in the nature of the university and academic publishing

Sustainability Week 2013But the quest for a sustainability is also of concern to indigenous communities across the globe. Last year, I attended Hokkaido University’s Sustainability Week symposium titled “Indigenous Heritage and Tourism: Succession and Creation of Living Heritage” (先住民文化遺産とツーリズム: 生きている遺産の継承と創造). Across three days at Hokkaido University and The Historical Museum of the Saru River in the town of Biratori, scholars, artists, and activists from Hokkaido and abroad dialogued about how to preserve indigenous heritage, and the the transference of knowledge about Ainu language and art to a younger generation moving into the future.

This year’s theme, “Indigenous Heritage and Tourism: Constructing Cultural Landscape and Indigenous Heritage Issues” (先住民文化遺産とツーリズム ―文化的景観と先住民遺産をめぐる諸問題―), continues this conversation by examining the various uses of landscape in indigenous communities as both managed resource and cultural inheritance. The activities on December 20th center around the theme of “Cultural Landscapes Created by Rock & Water”, while December 21st is dedicated to “Cultural Landscapes Created by Sea and Lake.” If last year’s event was any indication, this year will a vibrant dialogue, so check it out if you are in the Sapporo area.

Date/Time
December 20, 2014, 1 – 3pm (doors open at 12:30pm)
December 21, 2014, 10am – 4pm (doors open at 9:30am)

Location:
Hokkaido University Conference Hall [学術交流会館 小講堂] (Open to General Public)

Language:
Japanese/English (consecutive interpretation)

Sponsored By:
Hokkaido University Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies
Center for Advanced Tourism Studies, Hokkaido University
WAC-Japan (Bid Committee for 8th World Archaeological Congress in Kyoto)

Ainu and the Antique Store

photo 6_editedMy childhood in Pennsylvania was filled of memories of antique shops, flea markets, auctions, and estate sales. I think it was somewhere between the rows of old objects that I discovered a love of history and a passion for the hunt. I vividly remember summer Saturdays, watching the world fly by from the passenger seat of my mother’s car. It lacked air conditioning and my legs used to stick to the seat every time we stopped to check out a new garage sale. When our search was over, we would giddily talk about our “finds” on the drive home, and remember the new neighborhoods through which we traveled, guided only by little neon-colored signs with a poor sense of direction.

This past weekend, J and I were rooting through old antique shops in Old Towne Orange, CA. Often called the “Antique Capital of Southern California,” small shops and specialty cafes decorate a one-mile stretch around the historic Orange Plaza. Proceeding from shop to shop, I relived the days of my youth feeling my way around the unique and rusted.

Old souvenir objects from Japan and China seem to be a staple of the antique market, and there is no shortage of blue-and-white porcelain, geisha dolls, and Chinoiserie. But you can imagine my surprise when stumbling upon two modest wood-carved figures of an Ainu man and woman. As if experiencing a bend in time, my childhood activities seemed to link directly to my current research.

The two figures were each strangled by a snap lock pin security loop from which a price tag dangled: “Carved Wood Figure, $4.00 each.” They were sandwiched between a vintage straw hot pad that my grandmother might have used and a porcelain vase with a faux wood finish, decorated with a butterfly and the words “Maui.” In front of the figures were ashtrays of various designs, materials, and patterns. A large Native American figure loomed on the shelf above them along with brass and crystal candlesticks and an over-sized plastic M&M figurine. Kitsch at its best.

The pair was probably produced in Hokkaido as a tourist souvenir. Beginning in the late Taisho era (ca. 1924), dolls like these were produced by the Ainu specifically for a tourist market. The figures have roots the Ainu nipopo doll, which was carved and utilized by shamans as protective amulets. Although it was against Ainu beliefs to depict the human form in a non-religious context, the tourist trade was an important source of income for a vulnerable group of people dependent on the government (Dubreul 1999). Ainu dolls like these are often compared to the Japanese kokeshi, since some souvenir versions are more rounded in shape. But while kokeshi are lathe-turned,  Ainu dolls are carved (McDowell 2011).

For me, this pair of dolls amongst the random items on an American antique store shelf is a testament to the American interest in the Ainu and Hokkaido; an interest that feels almost alien to us today. But even now, any traveler can buy similar wooden Ainu dolls at almost every major tourist spot on the island. I can only guess how this couple landed in an antique store in Orange, CA, but their mere presence speaks to these larger networks of circulation and exchange.

I opened my wallet and laid the $8 on the counter.

Cruising Down Flower Road: Furano & Biei

Where did the rest of my summer go?!  It is hard for me to believe that I’ll be returning back to UC Irvine in less than a month’s time. Time certainly flies!  I have been busy tying up the loose ends of my research, and preparing my paper for the Nineteenth Century Workshop on the theme of “Circulation” to be held at Rutgers University this October. I am just about finished — time to have a glass of wine and relax.

AdobeRevel_SharedImage_6ee777754137402fb5d5fe21968c047bI’ve been trying to squeeze as much travel in as I can before I leave Hokkaido.  Last month, I went with some friends to visit Furano (富良野) and Biei (美瑛), cities known for their fields of flowers, particularly lavender. In comparison to some other tourist sites here in Hokkaido, Furano has a short history. The city’s name comes from the Ainu for fura-nui (“foul-smelling place”), possibly in relation to the sulfuric smell from Tokachi Peak. Biei on the other hand comes from the Ainu for piye (“greasy, oily”) which could relate to a sulfur mine near the source of the river, causing the water to take on a cloudy appearance. I find it interesting that the Ainu names sound less-than-beautiful considering that this is a tourist destination which packages and markets the beauty of nature!

Located in the exact center of Hokkaido, it has the nickname “Navel Town” (臍の町). It sits between the Tokachi Mountain Range (as part of Daisetsuzan National Park), and the Yuubari Peaks (including Ashibetsu). Cruising down Highway 237 (or “Flower Road,” 花人街道), there seems to be a limitless number of farms where you can buy Hokkaido milk products (of course), lavender, and melon. Delicious.

his_1976

JR Calendar featuring Tomita Farm, 1976

When I visit new places in Japan, I always like to check out how these sites are represented in late Meiji and Taisho postcards (as with this post). However, with Furano’s short history, there isn’t any to be found with the exception of views of Tokachi Peak. A train line didn’t even reach Asahikawa, the closest city, until 1900! Even the famous Farm Tomita did not begin cultivating lavender until 1958, with tourism picking up after the farm’s lavender fields were featured on a JR Calendar in 1976.

Kita no Kuni kara Poster, Japan Railways, 1988

Poster, Japan Railways, 1988

Like several “rustic” locations in Japan, it also seems that tourism picked up following the famous drama, Kita no Kuni kara (北の国から) set in the Rokugo area, which began airing on Fuji Terebi in 1981. (For the curious: Click for Episode 1) This drama was also followed up by two others (Yasashii Jikan, 2005; Kaze no Gaaden, 2008).

css.php