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Department of History - Research Seminar Series

Date: 20 February 2013 Time: 5.00 pm

Venue: Bowland North SR23

Lent Term 2012-13

'The Politics of Hokusai's "Great Wave" in American Visual Culture'

Dr Christine Guth, Victoria and Albert Museum


No non-western artwork is more instantly recognizable than Hokusai's "Under the Wave off Kanagawa," better known today as "The Great Wave." First issued in 1831, this iconic woodcut has long occupied an important place in the American imaginary as a metaphor for the United States' special relationship with Japan. It has often served to represent the two way cultural flows following from Matthew Perry's so-called "opening" of that country in 1853, but less known are the political uses to which the print was put in the years following World War II as part of efforts to rehabilitate Japan and prepare the American public for its new role as an ally in the Cold War. This paper explores the mobilization of "The Great Wave" with particular reference to the activities of the "middlebrow" writers James Michener and Pearl Buck.


Dr. Christine Guth leads the Asian design history and material culture specialism in the Royal College of Art and Victoria and Albert Museum's postgraduate design history programme. Her main research interest is visual and material communication across cultures, issues explored in Art, Tea, and Industry: Masuda Takashi and the Mitsui Circle (Princeton 1993) and Longfellow's Tattoos: Tourism, Collecting, and Japan (U. of Washington 2004). She is also the author of Arts of Edo Japan: The Artist and the City (Yale 2010). She is currently writing a book about how Hokusai's so-called "Great Wave" became a global icon.

All staff and PGR students are warmly invited to History research seminars

For further information please contact Dr Tim Hickman


Who can attend: Internal


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: History


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