Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Ruminations on Teaching in Another Discipline

Back in December, I was asked if I might be able to teach Japanese Civilization. This was not to be an art history or visual culture course, but a class positioned squarely within the discipline of history. In addition, the course would be taught at “winter interim” speed, which translates to meeting 5 days a week, for 2 hours each day, for four weeks. As of Friday, we have completed 50% of the class in a quick and steady two-week march from the Jomon to the Muromachi. Tomorrow, we get into the sengoku jidai, or the Warring States period. It has been intense! I feel like my hand is constantly on the fast forward button…

I must say that teaching a course that is so deeply related to my own discipline, and yet different methodologically, has been an enlightening experience. I see my work as interdisciplinary, and I’m intimately aware of how historians do from my time affiliated with the History Department at Hokkaido University. But knowing this also makes me sensitive to how my own approaches to teaching and scholarship do not always “fit” concretely within that disciplinary framework. Designing and teaching a history course has given me a new appreciation for the analysis of primary texts, but it has also been self-affirming in a variety of ways. More than ever, I see the importance of using visual culture to help concretize our understanding of a period.

Other professors have commented on the challenges and rewards of venturing outside one’s own discipline in teaching. Adam Kotsko wrote an essay titled “The Courage to be Ignorant,” where he describes his own experiments with the transition from text-based courses to one that explored art/music/architecture in the liberal arts. I agree with Kotsko in that becoming a version of Jacques Ranciere’s “ignorant schoolmaster” causes us to facilitate the classroom differently. I find myself exploring material with a more open mind alongside the first-time readers in the course. The definitive meaning and relevance of certain primary texts have not yet firmly settled. The process reminds me to remain open to interpretation, since the academic “mastery” of content that we cultivate through graduate school and beyond can occasionally shut down and obscure alternative approaches and possibilities.

I surely have my challenges ahead, especially with effectively managing time as the grading picks up, but I’m having a lot of fun with the class. I already know that the lessons learned are going to help me to take a fresh look at my approach to Arts of Japan this spring.

2d5aae7de939e4c25cb0fcb4b4815ea3(As just an aside, I have also had a few crucial realizations… One is that different disciplines tend to compress space and time in different ways at the survey level. As a simple example, several readings that I vetted for Japan’s pre-history tended to deemphasize the long Jōmon period to discuss the Yayoi in more depth, using it to frame later Kofun developments as described in Chinese dynastic texts. But in Art History, the pottery and architecture of the Yayoi is usually a brief mention between the fantastic flame pots and dogū of the Jōmon and the haniwa of later kofun tombs. Quite a difference there!)

19th Century Workshop: Circulation

California has cooled down a bit, but I would be lying if i said that I didn’t miss Sapporo right now. Every time I sit down to work on my dissertation, I find myself quietly reminiscing about the sweet (and spicy) smell of soup curry, a famous Sapporo dish. I’ve been back in the States for ten days now and I’m already getting ready for my next flight to Rutgers University for the Nineteenth Century Workshop. Excited about the workshop, but not so excited to be back in an airport so soon…

The workshop’s theme is “Circulation” and here are some themes and questions the conference poses:

The nineteenth century was an age of mass circulation of newspapers and magazines; of forced migration and exodus; of developing expertise in networks of trade and colonial exploitation; of the emergence of standardized time for travel by steamship and by rail; of the transnational circulation of theatrical performances, medicine shows, and fraudulent currency; and of new understandings of the movement of languages, species, and cultures. The end of the slave trade and the abolition of slavery in many empires and nations, new forms of colonialism (of both the extractive and settler varieties) as well as massive labor migrations, all radically altered individuals’ sense of place and belonging, and what constituted the local and the global.

How was the movement of commodities, capital, and human bodies governed, promoted, and understood by different groups and organizations?  How did nineteenth-century cultural works orient themselves to new conditions of circulation?  In an age of increasingly coordinated circulation, where were the blockages? What stayed still?

We’ll be discussing actual written pieces provided by each presenter. Although I think there is much to be learned by presenting papers at conferences, I feel like workshops of this variety are a rare opportunity to get feedback on actual written work, and a chance to write something longer than the brief snapshot a conference allows. The workshop brings together people from a variety of different areas and fields, and will surely be an interdisciplinary dialogue! If you have an interest in the nineteenth century, the complete schedule has been posted here.

Bear-Worhisppers of YezoI am presenting on a panel with Edyta Bojanowska and Carla Yanni on October 3rd from 2:00-3:30 p.m. Both of our papers deal with travelogues in different regions of the world, and I’m looking forward to comparing approaches to this kind of material. My essay is about the gradual solidification of the Ainu visual stereotype through image circulation in the nineteenth century through travel works like Philipp Franz von Siebold’s Nippon (1852), Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), and Edward Greey’s The Bear Worshippers of Yezo (1884). I’m looking at how these travelers cite (and occasionally copy) earlier Ainu-e (images of the Ainu painted by Japanese visitors to Hokkaido). This essay is based on research recently completed in Hokkaido, so I’m thrilled to be getting some feedback. Here is our panel information:

October 3rd, 2:00-3:30pm, Murray Hall 302

Edyta Bojanowska, German, Russian, and Eastern European Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature, Rutgers
“Pineapples in Petersburg, Cabbage Soup on the Equator: Circuits of Global Trade in a Mid-Nineteenth Century Russian Travelogue”

Christina Spiker, Visual Studies, UC Irvine
“Constructing the Indigenous: Nineteenth-Century Circulation and Transformation of the Ainu Image in British and American Print Culture”

Moderated by Carla Yanni, Art History, Rutgers