Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Digital // Analyzing Textiles with an Ainu Attush Robe (StoryMapJS)

DESCRIPTION

An analysis of a 19th-century Ainu robe from the Cooper Hewitt Collection at the Smithsonian Design Museum. This was produced as part of independent research conducted with students Adele S. Gordon ’20 and Julianne Stewart ’20 at St. Olaf College. Each collaborator created their own “story map” using StoryMapJS and used it to explore minority visual representation within Asia. The StoryMapJS was accompanied by a website.

Presentation // Comparative Itineraries: A Digital Humanities Approach to Understanding Authenticity in the Exploration of Hokkaido

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “Comparative Itineraries: A Digital Humanities Approach to Understanding Authenticity in the Exploration of Hokkaido,” paper delivered at the Travel is Life, Travel is Home: Representing Travel and Landscape in Japan Conference, Iowa State University (April 4-6, 2019)

ABSTRACT

If you could ask any late nineteenth-century Euro-American explorer about their travels in Hokkaido, Japan, they would all tell you variations of the same story. After a voyage by a steamship, the traveler arrives in the port of Yokohama and confronts a Japan that is both foreign and familiar. After a few days exploration and orientation, they arrange passage to Hakodate by ship with the hope of traveling into Hokkaido’s frontier to meet the indigenous Ainu. Sometimes, these explorers frame the Ainu as savages beyond redemption; at other times, they describe them as naive indigenes in need of religion and civilization. But regardless of how they visually or verbally illustrate the Ainu throughout the text, you would undoubtedly hear tales about how it was this traveler who ventured farther and deeper into Japan’s interior than anyone who came before. As I read these various travel accounts of travel to Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido in the form of explorer’s reports, memoirs, and travelogues, I started to question the exceptional nature of their claims. Did they travel as far as their hyperbole indicated? And when they finally met the indigenous inhabitants of this island, the Ainu, did they really have to navigate “impenetrable jungles,” as one traveler would have it, to locate the ideal “savage” specimen? My paper investigates the role of Hokkaido in three travel narratives written by authors Isabella Bird, Arnold Henry Savage Landor, and Frederick Starr in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I describe the various approaches that these travelers take to exploring the island and employ a digital humanities method to physically plot out the geographies of their route in CARTO DB and ArcGIS. In addition to making a case for the scholarly utility of this method, I use the example of my SCALAR website Mapping Isabella Bird talk about how such digital projects can serve a pedagogical function in posing questions about travel narratives and claims of authorial authenticity.

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Digital // Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre (StoryMapJS)

DESCRIPTION

An exploration of woodblock printed triptych Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). This is a sample assignment used for my Arts of Japan course in Spring 2016 at St. Olaf College. Students created their own “story map” of a single work of art using StoryMapJS and explored it in relation to its artistic technique, social history, and cultural context. The StoryMapJS was accompanied by a written project abstract and self-assessment of the creation and research process. Students were also responsible for assessing the contributions of their peers.

Digital // Utagawa Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō (StoryMapJS)

DESCRIPTION

This exploration of print artist Utagawa Hiroshige’s (1797-1861) Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō was a collaborative project completed by the students in my history course Japanese Civilization at St. Olaf College during J-Term 2016. Students were each responsible for researching the local history and woodblock print associated with two stations along the famous Tōkaidō road. This research was then visualized in StoryMapJS, which helps create connections between the physical map, the significance of place, and the artistic representation of it. After the completion of the digital project, students were asked to write a paper comparing one of their sites with 3 other locations along the route completed by their peers.

Project shared online with written permission by each student in the course.

Digital // Traveling Hokkaido (ArcGIS)

DESCRIPTION

Traveling Hokkaido is an attempt to visualize the travel routes of several popular explorers, artists, and anthropologists who ventured to the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido (or “Yezo”) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The maps were created using a free account of ArcGIS. This endeavor currently focuses on three popular texts–rather than purely scientific accounts–including Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), A. Henry Savage Landor’s Alone with the Hairy Ainu (1894), and Frederick Starr’s The Ainu at the St. Louis Exposition (1904). By studying the actual routes traversed both physically and imaginatively in these works, we can better understand and study the persistence of literary and visual motifs of Japan’s northernmost extents.

Presentation // Discovering Hokkaido: Postcards, Train Travel, and the Mapping of Tourist Space

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “Discovering Hokkaido: Postcards, Train Travel, and the Mapping of Tourist Space,” paper delivered at the Nature of Space, Visual Arts Graduate Student Conference, UC San Diego. (March 9, 2013).

ABSTRACT

Photo postcards are an often-ignored category of photographic production, but a crucial hallmark of the modern travel experience. The everydayness and obviousness of the postcard medium makes it a ripe primary material through which we can learn about culture, racial attitudes, and the inner-workings of imperial ideology. In this paper, I interrogate a single Japanese postcard set (ca. 1926-1940) that engages with the customs of the Japanese indigenous minority, the Ainu. Produced in Hokkaido—the northernmost island in the Japanese archipelago—I argue that this particular set exemplifies a much broader postcard phenomenon that negotiates the newly industrialized Hokkaido frontier with the loss of indigenous, Ainu spaces. Through a creative juxtaposition of image, text, and graphic design these postcards simultaneously laud the wonders of railway travel to the island interior while inscribing new transportation hubs with nostalgia for an indigenous past.

Postcards sold near railway stations were crucial in establishing the modern tourist landscape of Hokkaido. Previous travel routes depicted in nineteenth-century maps were traversed on horse or on foot. The speed of train travel forever changed the tourist experience of space, as visitation became limited to those sites with railway station access. As a testament to this new configuration of frontier space, postcards like these stand as visual relics that embrace new tourist geographies while illuminating the specter of the indigenous village erased in the name of progress. This postcard set of seven was produced in order to educate a new sightseeing public about the Ainu linguistic origins of Hokkaido city names. The Ainu are relegated to the periphery—both literally and figuratively—as Japanese text is superimposed over native bodies in a crowded collage. This postcard set illuminates not only the emergent geographies prompted by train travel, but also ideologies informing the new tourist experience of native culture.

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