Nissan Seminar: Visualizing Fascism: Japan's State of Unexception

Convener(s): Professor Sho Konishi and Dr Mateja Kovacic

Speaker(s): Professor Julia Adeney Thomas, Department of History, University of Notre Dame


 “Visualizing Fascism: Japan’s War without Pictures”

            Between 1937 and 1945, the government and the military used almost every imaginable means to mobilize the nation behind the conquest of Asia and the widening attacks on Allied powers.  Most Japanese photographers were eager to join the fray.  Technologically capable and aesthetically astute, they sought to inspire public support for imperialism, and yet, as I will show, photography was never used to galvanize the nation in the way one would have predicted.  Instead of spectacular images of battlefield action, Japan’s domestic magazines contained few dramatic images of fighting.  The talk considers what this evidence reveals for the nature of Japan’s wartime ideology in the context of global fascism. 


Julia Adeney THOMAS, associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame is an intellectual and political historian of modern Japan, trained at Princeton, Oxford, and the University of Chicago.  She grew up in the coal country of southwest Virginia where almost half of the mountains have now suffered from mountain-top removal.  Because of her love of these mountains, she has a sharp interest in combining intellectual and environmental history.  Her questions about how we grapple with the natural world have led to research on the ecological efflorescence in the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a comparison of Maruyama Masao’s ideas about nature and politics with those of Horkheimer and Adorno, a manifesto on the future of environmental history for Munich’s Rachel Carson Centre, and Reconfiguring Modernity: Concepts of Nature in Japanese Political Ideology which received the 2002 John K. Fairbank prize from the American Historical Association.  With Ian Miller and Brett Walker, she published Japan at Nature’s Edge: The Environmental Context of a Global Power and organized a roundtable on Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable for the Journal of Asian Studies.  Her interest in photography has led her to think about war memory in Japanese museums, about photographs of street urchins in the postwar period, and the relationship between the so-called realism of photography and reactionary political ideas.  Her American Historical Review essay on “Wartime Images and the Case of Japan” won the Berkshire conference best article award.  She has held fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the NEH, ACLS, SSRC, Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton’s IAS, and the Japan Foundation among others and is the author of more than 30 articles and book chapters.  With Mark Phillips and Barbara Caine, she co-edited Rethinking Historical Distance.  She has three projects currently under contract, The Anthropocene co-authored with geologists Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams (Polity, 2020);  a co-edited collection titled Visualizing Fascism: The Global Rise of the Twentieth-Century Right (Duke, 2020): and The Historian’s Task in the Anthropocene: Theory, Practice, and the Case of Japan for Princeton.