As I write this, members of the Gail Project are wrapping up a two-week trip to Okinawa. I, however, am in New London, where I’ve just taken up a post as Visiting Assistant Professor in Japanese History at Connecticut College. While this means that I’m lucky to join a vibrant academic community and meet a whole new crew of eager students, it also means that my new schedule didn’t allow me to go to Okinawa with the Gail Project. I’ll admit that it’s been bittersweet to keep up with their travels from afar, but they’ve been doing a great job documenting their trip for those of us left behind. Alan Christy and the other directors of the project have mapped out what looks like a busy (ok, exhausting) schedule. I invite you to check out some of the Gail Project’s social media accounts to see just they’ve been doing. And don’t forget the all new Gail website!

Gail on Twitter

Gail on Tumblr

Gail on Facebook

Gail on Instagram

Giving Day for The Gail Project

UCSC’s Giving Day is here again. The support we receive today is so important in helping our students to engage with Okinawan history and develop skills that they can take with them beyond the archives. We remain grateful those who have supported our students as they coordinate our photo exhibit, digitize our archive of U.S. military documents, and finalize our new website. As we continue these projects, our ability to fund our student-researchers remains central to The Gail Project‘s mission of helping students with a keen interest in Okinawa to “get their hands dirty” with the real work of historical preservation and presentation.

This is a busy year for us. We are organizing the opening exhibition of the Gail photos, which will take place at UCSC’s Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery this fall, along with an intense study-research trip this summer in Okinawa, where our students will finally get to experience the place they have spent so much time researching. Finally, our interactive website goes live and soon people from around the world will be able to share their own experiences of Okinawa through their interactions with the photos.

I think Ira Glass could do it better, but I’ll say that we remain very grateful to our supporters! Today, March 8, please take a moment to donate to The Gail Project. A generous donor has agreed to match our donations 1:1 up to $2,500. And check out the promo video our students made!

Upcoming Workshop @ UC Berkeley: “New Topics, Technologies and New Times: Japan Ahead”

I was very recently invited to participate in an upcoming workshop organized by UC Berkeley’s Center for Japanese Studies. Entitled “New Topics, Technologies and New Times: Japan Ahead,” the workshop is sponsored by both CJS and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. By working through the example of the comfort women issue (慰安婦問題, ianfu mondai), I’ll be speaking on a language-themed panel about how historians grapple with controversial historical-political debates in the classroom. This interdisciplinary workshop takes place February 24-25 and is free and open to the public!

Teaching “Food Empires of Asia and the Pacific”

This winter quarter, one of the classes I am teaching is an upper-division history course called “Food Empires of Asia and the Pacific.” I designed the course to draw from a wide temporality, covering everything from the Spice Route, to the coming of tobacco and chillies to China, to the spread of canned Spam across the Pacific, to the sushi boom in the U.S., to the invention of “ethnic” cuisine. In some ways, the course can feel like other world history courses that build their historical frameworks (colonialism, migration, capitalism, etc) around commodities like sugar, salt, cotton, etc. With our particular attention on overlapping empires as a means to understanding Pacific history, however, the course feels refreshingly new. While I was aided by colleagues near and far in thinking about the course design, it became clear to me that food history is often taught as a corollary to the European colonization of the New World. When it comes to Asia and the Pacific, much of the important work on food seems to have thus far been accomplished by scholars and non-scholars outside of the field of history (for which I’m grateful and much of this material made its way into my course reader).

Because food is inherently social (whether in its production or consumption), I decided to construct the course assignments into interactive projects rather than research papers. The final project asks students to use ArcGIS Story Map to present the trans-Pacific history of a commodity, a dish, or a restaurant. This platform allows for the presentation of narrative, multi-layered mapping, as well as audio and visual files. Students can, for example, visit a local restaurant, interview the owner/cook, and create a project that puts their material into historical perspective. Though students are responsible for a significant amount of reading (accompanied by weekly reading responses and one-time presentation of a reading in class), the bulk of course evaluation comes from the implementation of their project.

“Food Empires” is a reflection of two of my recent interests and projects. First, this class is an addendum to a senior capstone I designed and taught last year, “U.S. Bases and Social Movements in Asia,” which drew from interdisciplinary material to illustrate the environmental, social, and political histories of communities that host U.S. bases in the region. The other force behind the food class is what I hope will be my book second project, the history of Spam (the canned meat) around the Pacific.

Though I put together a fairly beefy (pardon the pun) course reader, I also assigned the entirety of George Solt’s excellent and accessible The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze (UC Press, 2014). On top of the digital projects, we are also compiling a digital bibliography of food history sources and a collaborate recipe book of dishes that we discover through our research. As much as possible, I hope to make the products of our research available to anyone who may interested.

In the hopes of fostering collaboration, I’m sharing the syllabi for both of these courses and would be very interested to hear how other educators have approached food and empire in their own classrooms. I’ll have a lot more to say about the class and hope to share some of the student projects once we finish in late-March (gulp)!

Dustin Wright_Syllabus_HIS 106C Food Empires of Asia and the Pacific

Dustin Wright; Syllabus; US Military Bases and Social Movements in Asia


Assigned readings included George Solt’s work on ramen and a comprehensive course reader.

Digital Exhibit Building Symposium at UCSC

Next Wednesday, the Digital Commons at UCSC’s McHenry Library will be hosting the Digital Exhibit Building Symposium, which is shaping up to be a very engaging day of folks sharing their own visions of the digital humanities and the latest tools of the field. I’m a participant on the panel “Why Build Digital Exhibits,” in which I’ll be discussing The Gail Project, the digital project and exhibition that I co-direct. If you have the opportunity to attend, it’s recommended that you sign-up on the waiting list. Be sure to check out the great workshops on Scalar, Omeka, and the lifecycle of a digital project!

My Take on Obama’s Trip to Hiroshima

President Obama’s trip to Hiroshima today has immense historical significance for both Japan and the US. I have a piece in Thursday’s The Japan Times explaining why I think this could be an important opportunity for historians to open up new debates on the atomic attacks. Check it out!

As a follow-up to my article, I was thrilled to be interviewed yesterday by the excellent Sonali Kolhatkar on her show, Rising Up With Sonali. It was such an honor to appear on her show, which doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics. The show aired this morning and can now be streamed online (or below).

Giving Day for The Gail Project

While teaching at UCSC, I am also the co-advisor for The Gail Project, a collaborative public and digital history project that focuses on postwar Okinawa and is specifically centered on the beautiful photographs taken by an American serviceman in the early years of the U.S. occupation. The project is a lot of things: a space for students to collaborate with faculty and conduct hands-on research; the opportunity to gain project development experience; a history-based project that takes students from the classroom at UCSC to the archives and communities of Okinawa.

May 11th is Giving Day at UCSC and The Gail Project was among the projects selected by the university to compete for donor funding. We are reaching out to all of our supporters, asking for any amount they can contribute: $1? $10? $1000? A generous individual has agreed to contribute $5000 in matching funds, so any contribution you make will go even further. As part of Giving Day, the project that receives the most donors (not dollars) will receive an additional $10,000, which means that even the smallest contribution from our supporters can help us win. Please go this website to help us meet this goal and thank you very much for your support! 

Check out the video below for an introduction to the exciting work that we are doing:


Gearing up for the Association for Asian Studies 2016 Conference

I’m excited for the upcoming Association for Asian Studies conference that will be held in Seattle later this month. Outside of the oysters I plan on eating (I’m coming for you, Taylor), I’ll also be presenting on an interdisciplinary panel entitled “Contentious Legal Boundaries: East and Southeast Asian Sovereignty.” Special thanks to Victoria Reyes at Bryn Mawr for organizing the panel!

Here’s my paper’s abstract:

Activism in the Courts: Popular Challenges to the Legality of Military Bases in Japan

Anti-military base protests rocked Japan throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This paper interrogates two important legal cases regarding local opposition to military bases and militarism: the Sunagawa Incident of 1959 and the Eniwa Incident of 1967. The Sunagawa Incident was a legal case brought against anti-U.S. military base protesters who were accused of trespassing onto a base, while the Eniwa Incident referred to the prosecution of a family accused of vandalizing the property of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Both cases became cause célèbre for leftists and peace groups throughout Japan, which forced the presiding judges to look beyond the initial scope of the actual crimes in question and instead address broader legal critiques on the presence of military bases in Japan, a country where militarism is usually understood to be illegal under Article Nine of the constitution. By examining the laws concerning the physical presence of military bases throughout Japan’s topography, along with the judges’ ruling opinions, I draw attention to the legal roots of citizen-led anti-base activism in postwar Japan. Finally, this paper addresses the relationship of these two court cases to anti-base movements in Japan today.

Schedule: April 1, 12:45 to 2:45pm, Washington State Convention Center, 2nd Floor, Room 214

This is my third AAS conference in as many years, and I constantly find the panels to be exciting and enlightening. Hope to see you there!

Gratitude to John Junkerman

Last week, I wrapped up the final session of my course, “U.S. Bases and Social Movements in Asia.” As a senior seminar course, where the classroom is a space for discussion rather than lecture, students wrote a 25-page graduation thesis as part of their work. I’ll have more to say about the class later on; for the time being, I’m sitting back and reflecting on both the course and the research projects that students chose to pursue (the exploitation of sex workers in Japan and Korea; the historical narratives surrounding the Mauna Kea telescope controversy in Hawai’i; nuclear testing and climate change in the Marshall Islands; basetowns in the Philippines; the legal framework of the status of forces agreements in Japan; the evolving raison d’état for U.S. bases in Turkey, etc). I have come out of the seminar more energized than ever about the subject.

Our last class was a real treat. Filmmaker John Junkerman came to our seminar to chat with us about his latest, Okinawa: The Afterburn/沖縄、うりずんの雨). The film joins other recent documentaries on Okinawa, including filmmaker Mikami Chie’s We Shall Overcome/戦場ぬ止み and The Targeted Village/標的の村 (both of which I was lucky to watch at the very cool Pole Pole Theater/ポレポレ東中野 in Higashi-Nakano). All of these films are useful tools for teaching Okinawa as both a beautiful and deeply complicated place, but one that is also constantly struggling under militarism. As Okinawa: The Afterburn so aptly demonstrates, the current base condition in Okinawa is built upon layers of war memory and American occupation that simply cannot be overlooked. They are embedded into the very fabric of Okinawan experience. This is not to say that Okinawa is not a dynamic space with dynamic people, but simply that Okinawa’s modern history is very surface at the surface of Okinawan experience today.

Here’s the film trailer:

After the seminar discussion, we headed over to a larger screening of the film that was open to the entire community. Co-sponsored by The Gail Project, the screening had an excellent turnout and a vibrant Q&A session, which I happily facilitated. Our deepest thanks to John for stopping by Santa Cruz during his busy U.S. screening tour!

Junkerman visit1

Filmmaker John Junkerman spoke to members of my “U.S. Bases and Social Movements in Asia” senior seminar during the last week of class.

Q&A after we screened the film for the entire campus. Great turnout!

Q&A after we screened the film for the entire campus. Great turnout! (Photo courtesy Tosh Tanaka and The Gail Project)

And since I'm feeling nostalgic for other films, here's a picture of me last June 23 (the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa/irei) getting ready to watch Mikami Chie's 戦場ぬ止み

And since I’m feeling nostalgic, here’s a picture of me last June 23 (the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa) getting ready to watch Mikami Chie’s 戦場ぬ止み.

Post-dissertation research

After filing the dissertation in June, I was able to spend more time in western Tokyo to meet other people who actually participated in the Sunagawa Struggle. Part of my post-dissertation research included re-interviewing some people and talking with journalists who have been reporting on the Japanese government’s recent moves to reinterpret Article Nine of the constitution. Enomoto Tetsuya, the chief of the Tachikawa bureau of The Tokyo Shimbun, has been writing a lot about the connections between the Sunagawa Struggle (and the 1959 Supreme Court case it spawned) and present moment, where many in Japan are troubled by both the expansion of American bases in Okinawa and what is seen as a more aggressive willingness to send the Self-Defense Forces into wars abroad.

Mr. Enomoto and I have kept in touch since this summer. On November 6, he published a short article on my dissertation project and, in particular, my belief that the Sunagawa Struggle was of global significance because it was a movement that was able to humble the U.S. military at a historical moment (the 1950s) when bases throughout Japan and Okinawa were undergoing massive expansion projects


Tokyo Shimbun Article

Shimada Seisaku, who was member of the Tachikawa city council from the late 1960s until the early 1990s. He was and continues to be an important fixture among the anti-base community in western Tokyo. Here he is after speaking about the significance of the Sunagawa Struggle at a gathering hosted by Koganei Peace Action (こがねいピースアクション). It was great to meet the person whose work featured prominently in Chapter Four of my dissertation!

Shimada Seisaku was a member of the Tachikawa city council from the late 1960s until the early 1990s. He was and continues to be an important fixture among the anti-base community in western Tokyo. Here he is after speaking about the significance of the Sunagawa Struggle at a gathering hosted by a group called Koganei Peace Action (こがねいピースアクション). It was great to meet the person whose work featured prominently in Chapter Four of my dissertation!