2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration which has been feted in commemorations spanning academic conferences and special essay collections worldwide as well as local celebrations in Japanese cities such as Kagoshima and Kyoto. Parallel to these festivities, however, are activities in Hokkaido observing a connected, yet distinctive, 150th anniversary, that of the incorporation of “Ezo” into Japanese sovereign territory and its renaming as Hokkaido. Celebrations of both national and “Hokkaido” transformations frequently focus on the role of the ocean in the emergence of a modern Japan, from the process of renaming “Ezo” to the broader demarcation of sovereign water spaces circumscribing Japan’s perimeter. What do both sesquicentennials reveal about Japan’s emergence as a maritime nation over the past century and a half? And what role did Hokkaido play in that process?
This talk reflects on both questions as Wilson explores how the climate of current geopolitics in the Pacific – and the two interconnected anniversaries — shape the way professional historians interpret Japan’s history, particularly the role of the ocean in shaping its past. Although many observers still label the current era as the “Pacific Century,” this framing has influenced the writings of Japanese and Western historians in markedly different ways. Wilson will explore these contrasts as she examines how Japan’s current identity as a “Pacific Nation” in 2018 shapes the way historians of Japan write about the past.
2017-18 Fulbright Research Fellow in the Faculty of Law at Hokkaido University and Croft Associate Professor of History and International Studies at the University of Mississippi
Noell Wilson is a 2017-18 Fulbright Research Fellow in the Faculty of Law at Hokkaido University and Croft Associate Professor of History and International Studies at the University of Mississippi (USA). She is the author of several publications on Japan’s maritime history including Defensive Positions: The Politics of Maritime Security in Tokugawa Japan (Harvard University Asia Center, 2015) and an article forthcoming this year, “The Nantucket of the North Pacific: How US Whalers in 1860s Hakodate Connected Restoration Japan to Global Flows”. Current research spanning New Bedford MA to Hokkaido and the Bay of Islands NZ explores the role of US whalers in integrating mid-nineteenth century Japan into an emergent North Pacific commercial and cultural web. After studying Japanese as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University (BA in History, 1994), Wilson spent a year as a JET teacher in Yuni-cho, Hokkaido before returning to complete an AM in Regional Studies East Asia and then a Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages (2004), both at Harvard University. When not writing about maritime affairs, Wilson stays connected to the ocean through sailing and SCUBA diving.