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21F.027J / CMS.874 / 21H.917J Visualizing Cultures, Spring 2003

American warship, ca. 1854, Color woodblock print.
American warship, ca. 1854, Color woodblock print. (Print courtesy of Nagasaki Prefecture.)

Highlights of this Course

Click here to read an introduction to the Visualizing Cultures program.

Click here to read statements from MIT President Susan Hockfield, Chancellor Phillip L. Clay and Professors John Dower and Shigeru Miyagawa regarding the recent events surrounding Visualizing Cultures.

This course offers an amazing collection of images and commentary about Commodore Perry and the opening of Japan. The units section contains: the Core Exhibit, a wealth of rarely seen graphics from both sides of this historic encounter interwoven with an original text by John W. Dower; the Interactive Black Ship Scroll, a reconstruction of a 30-foot-long Japanese scroll; Visual Narratives that reinterpret the text; and the Traveling Exhibition that was inspired by this course.

Visualizing Cultures looks at "cultures" in the broadest sense, including cultures of war, racism, nationalism, propaganda and atrocity that we must confront squarely if we are ever to create a better world. In no way does MIT or the faculty working on the project endorse any of the atrocities depicted.

Course Description

In this new course, students will study how images have been used to shape the identity of peoples and cultures. A prototype digital project looking at American and Japanese graphics depicting the opening of Japan to the outside world in the 1850s will be used as a case study to introduce the conceptual and practical issues involved in "visualizing cultures". The major course requirement will be creation and presentation of a project involving visualized cultures.


Professor John Dower
Professor Shigeru Miyagawa

Course Meeting Times

One session / week
3 hours / session



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