Artifact Analysis: Meiji Restoration

Find and select an artifact or primary source (a text, image, ad, cover, logo, illustration, etc…) from MIT’s Visualizing Cultures website that is related to the Meiji Restoration. You can choose a material artifact from Davidson’s Special Collections, such as the works currently on display on the first floor of the library.

Once you’ve selected an artifact, write a short essay (750 words max) in which you identify and briefly describe the artifact, and analyze its relationship or attitude to the Meiji Restoration. What does the article tell you about the period or Restoration? What vision or version of the Meiji Restoration does it offer? Does it support, contradict, or complicate an argument made by Ian Buruma in Inventing Japan? You are encouraged to focus your analysis on a specific aspect or issue within the period, such as the representation of women or children, peasants, samurai, the emperor, Western influences, modernization, violence, etc. The more narrow your focus, paradoxically the more you can say about your artifact.


  • Think carefully about what kind of claims you can make based on a single artifact. What can you conclude about an entire period based on one poem, article, ad, or image? Not much, but you can draw a conclusion about your artifact.
  • If you consult secondary sources (including Buruma), think of yourself as collaborating with, rather than attacking scholars who have come before you. This doesn’t mean that you can’t challenge or even reject their findings, but do so respectfully, in a spirit of a shared commitment to intellectual inquiry into this rich, dynamic period of Russian / world history.
  • Don’t get hung up on research! The point of this assignment is NOT to do a lot of research, but to hone your close reading skills.

Your essay should include:

  • Word Limit: 750 words (max)
  • Category: Artifact draft / Artifact final
  • Relevant title & featured image
  • Exposition: identify the artifact, source, date, and audience.
  • “They Say”/ Critical Conversation: Situate your artifact in relation to a scholarly argument made by Buruma and/or some popular assumption (“Americans often assume” or “I was taught to believe”) about Japan, the Meiji Restoration, or your particular focus.
  • Intervention: Assert a clear thesis about how your artifact supports, contradicts, or complicates that assumption.
  • Defend your claims with specific evidence (quotations, details)
  • Analyze the evidence to explain how it supports your claim.
  • Include a clear, well-cropped, legible image of the artifact in your essay.
  • Include a bibliography of works cited & consulted (MLA Style).
  • Attention to detail: no more than 3 errors in standard English usage