A Multimedia History of Japan from the Aizu Point of View

  1. 1. Janet R. Goodwin

    California State University, Stanislaus, University of Aizu

  2. 2. James M. Goodwin

    University of Aizu, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

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We are currently developing educational software
(courseware) on Japanese history, focusing on the
Aizu region of north central Japan. Portions of the
Aizu History Project are available on Worldwide
Web (http://www.u-aizu.ac.jp/~jan/ah/hdr.html).
While the materials are designed primarily for an
English-speaking university audience, students at
the University of Aizu are working on a Japaneselanguage version of the project. The hypermedia
techniques developed in this project can also be
used to produce teaching materials in other humanities and social science disciplines.
Multimedia, Hypertext, and the
Teaching of History
As a university teacher of history, I have encountered two frustrating aspects of the traditional
text-lecture method of teaching. First, students
come to the class with a variety of abilities, interests, and educational backgrounds, making it difficult for a teacher to stimulate the best students
without losing the slower ones. Second, the textlecture method imposes a linear mode of presentation that discourages “digressions” from a central chronological pattern, thus making it difficult
to explore topics that might best be considered
Multimedia teaching materials, however, can help
to solve both problems. Hypertext permits the
individual student to select an appropriate level of
instruction for him or herself, and the non-linear
nature of hyperlinked text permits multiple organizational structures that a student can pursue at
will. For example, she may choose to take a strictly
chronological approach, examining all topics
available within a given time period before she
proceeds to the next period; or she may opt for a
study of, say, gender issues that crosses back and
forth from one period to another.
One additional advantage of multimedia is the
ease with which visual and aural materials can be
incorporated into text. The written word is a remarkably efficient means for communicating abstract concepts and complicated historical relationships, but it may not be the best means for
transmitting a sense of the past as people lived it.
To accomplish that aim, it is necessary to use
pictures, film clips, and audio recordings that
show the past rather than simply telling about it.
Of course, audiovisual materials have been used
in the classroom for many years. Yet they require
a passive audience and – like lectures – impose a
linear pattern of learning, far more in fact than
does text. Actually, the way in which many readers
approach text – using the table of contents and the
index to find items of interest, or flipping to the
conclusion before reading the arguments that lead
to it – suggests that linear learning patterns may in
fact be unnatural ones that suit the convenience of
the teacher rather than the learner. However, computer techniques now available enable students to
explore ready-made environments more or less
freely. Using hypertext, students can pursue questions on their own rather than following a script
designed by a teacher or textbook author.
As historical research moves beyond a documents-only approach to use archaeological findings and oral testimony as primary sources, history teaching demands that students be able to
examine these sources rather than just to read
about them. Although it is difficult for students to
see or to handle an artifact such as a prehistoric
burial jar, virtual reality techniques allow them to
examine such artifacts from several angles, to
“zoom” onto features of interest, and even to look
inside and examine the skeletal remains and grave
goods interred there. From that point the student
can pursue more difficult conceptual questions
such as the social context in which burial practices
occurred, or the information on social organization and religious belief that historians can obtain
from studying such practices. Computer multimedia techniques can pull a student into an environment that replicates a particular time and place in
the past; virtual reality can allow students to participate in a simulation of history; and hypertext
can stimulate students’ imagination and creativity
by letting them design their own history course
rather than following a course imposed by others.
Problems to consider
Using hypertext and hypermedia to teach history
has some potential dangers. Students – and even
courseware developers – may be tempted to ignore
complex matters in favor of
media glitz. In addition, the free-exploration methods promoted by hypermedia may result in narrow or one-sided knowledge on the part of an
undisciplined student, who may learn everything
about swordsmanship but nothing about landholding structures. If used as a supplement to normal
classroom teaching, however, computer-based
free-exploration methods can make the student an
active and thus more interested participant in the
learning process. If the courseware includes indepth explorations of conceptual issues, even a
casual Websurfer may be lured into a serious
exploration of history.
Further advantages – and perhaps some problems
– derive from using the Internet as a platform for
multimedia teaching materials. On the Internet,
one may freely tap the work of others through
suitable hyperlinks. Students can find related materials on their own through Internet search engines. The freedom and openness of the Internet,
however, has aroused serious concerns among
humanities professionals, and some have called
for measures to ensure quality control. I would
argue that instead of instituting such measures,
which could easily result in censorship, we all
work harder to teach our students standards for
judging accuracy and interpretive soundness in
historical work.
Contents of the project – history from
the local perspective
The free-form exploration of materials promoted
by hypertext methodology lends itself to history
that begins from the particular and leads to broad
synthesis and comparative analysis. One example
of such an approach is history that begins with a
local perspective. As our project demonstrates, the
history of a particular region can be used to illuminate the history of an entire society.
Most English-language texts present Japanese history from the viewpoint of the central power
structure. In geographical terms, students learn
about the capital regions of Kyoto or Tokyo, but
little about provincial regions. Yet these regions
made important contributions to the development
of Japan as a whole; and viewing Japanese history
from the viewpoint of the people who lived in such
areas can provide beginning students of Japanese
history with a very different picture than the one
to which they are usually introduced. Moreover, it
could be argued that in the past, a rural region such
as Aizu was more typical of Japan as a whole than
were capital cities. Using the Aizu viewpoint,
therefore, can provide fresh perspectives on social
and political developments throughout Japanese
Although our project focuses on Aizu, it does not
consider the region in isolation but rather, as part
of the Tohoku (northern) region, which has been
generally neglected in Japanese history; and as
part of the developing nation of Japan. Thus the
project can provide valuable insights into the connection between center and periphery in such areas
as political and economic development and the
spread of religious movements.
Using hypertext and multimedia to promote free
form exploration of text and visual materials, we
have begun our project by developing a module on
Buddhism in the Aizu region. The module, which
we will demonstrate as part of our presentation,
includes not only text and photographs but also a
three-dimensional model of the Golden Hall at
Enichiji, a no-longer extant temple constructed
early in the Heian period (794-1185). Using modeling and rendering software, we reconstructed
the building from archaeological findings. With
the use of animation software, the temple doors
open and the building “flies” toward the viewer,
allowing him/her to explore its interior architecture. We are designing a viewer-directed walkthrough of this model using VRML. Also under
development is a three-dimensional model of an
eighteenth-century temple with a double-helical
interior ramp.
Navigating the courseware
The student can begin by choosing an initial topic
from a menu. The menu suggests a learning path
but the student may use hyperlinks to explore the
courseware according to his/her own interests. A
student might follow a path such as this: Choosing
the topic entitled “Heian Buddhism”, she then
selects the subtopic “Enichiji”. By following appropriate hyperlinks she can obtain a summary of
Enichiji’s history from its founding in the ninth
century; photographs of the temple’s remains; a
reproduction and discussion of a medieval painting of the temple complex; and the three-dimensional model of the Golden Hall discussed above.
In addition to reading the text and examining the
photographs, students can “walk” through the model, and will soon be able to select portions of the
painting for an enlarged view and more detailed
discussion of particular features. The text will also
contain hyperlinks to information on Enichiji’s
sister temple Shojoji (whose main images have
just been designated National Treasures), and to
the Buddhist monk Tokuichi, credited with the
founding of both temples. Thus the student can
begin with Enichiji and study Heian Buddhism in
the Aizu region in detail.
Supposing, however, the student chooses to go in
another direction: from Enichiji to a broader consideration of Buddhism in the Heian period. The
Enichiji text will also contain a link to a discussion
of mountain worship, with which the temple had
strong connections. Or, the student may proceed
from the text on Tokuichi to a discussion of his
rivalry with Saicho, the founder of the Japanese
Tendai school, and from there to a survey of
Tendai and Tokuichi’s Hosso school, and then to
a discussion of inter-sect and inter-temple rela114
tionships and rivalries at various points in Japanese history. Other social and political issues may be
explored as well: for example, a section on the
agricultural estates that supported Enichiji leads to
a general discussion of the medieval estate system,
not only in the Aizu region but throughout Japan.
In other words, the student can pursue narrow or
broad topics to whatever depth she chooses.
Using the courseware
The courseware has not yet been tried in a class in
Japanese history, but it should provide useful material for class discussions or term papers. Since
students in a class will be pursuing somewhat
different topics, depending on their interests, they
can share knowledge with and teach one another.
While a teacher can never be sure how far an
individual student will pursue a particular topic,
the information presented in this courseware
should lead naturally to new questions that are
only minimally related to the topic with which the
student began. Since Buddhist institutions in premodern Japan were political as well as religious
institutions, a student following the example presented above could examine changing configurations of political power in the Aizu region – and
this, of course, could easily lead to similar issues
in modern history.
At the University of Aizu, moreover, we used the
courseware in another way: to teach students how
to prepare humanities-related materials for the
Internet. The students chose topics that interested
them, gathered written materials and photographs,
and interviewed local experts. In addition to technical problems of creating a Web page, the students had to consider copyright problems, appropriate hyperlinks to other sites, and logical
methods of introducing historical materials. The
students are all computer science majors, and pursuits such as these have given them some new
ideas on how they might use their expertise in the

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Bergen

Bergen, Norway

June 25, 1996 - June 29, 1996

147 works by 190 authors indexed

Scott Weingart has print abstract book that needs to be scanned; certain abstracts also available on dh-abstracts github page. (https://github.com/ADHO/dh-abstracts/tree/master/data)

Conference website: https://web.archive.org/web/19990224202037/www.hd.uib.no/allc-ach96.html

Series: ACH/ICCH (16), ALLC/EADH (23), ACH/ALLC (8)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC