Japanese Visual Arts
Reading Assignment RE: Nihonga
**1 page limit [11–12 point font size, 1.0–2.0 spaced according to your needs]
This exercise is about identifying the main argument, key supporting points and scholarly approach of an academic essay. It is also about understanding the difference between “history” and “historiography.” No additional research or reading is required to complete this assignment. Using your own words, your task is to summarize and briefly comment on the essay published as chapter two in our textbook: Ellen P. Conant, “Japanese Painting from Edo to Meiji: Rhetoric and Reality,” Since Meiji: Perspectives on the Japanese Visual Arts, 1868-2000 (2012): 34-65. You can use the following questions as a general guide: What is the author’s argument, and how does she make her case? What evidence does the author use to support her key points? In what ways is this essay historical? In what ways is this essay historiographical? You will be assessed on the concision and clarity of your report in addition to how well you have comprehended the author’s aims and approach without getting lost in the details. To put this another way, you will be assessed on how well you are able to distinguish between the “forest” (ie. the bigger picture of what the author is trying to do) and the “trees” (ie. the data and details used by the author to make her case). These are skills you will need for your final project, as discussed further elsewhere. FAH262H1-2 2020 Some tips to get you started: If you find the assigned reading overwhelming at first, you are not alone. Reading academic writing like this is an acquired skill. Remember that academic texts are generally structured according to certain conventions, with variations according to different fields and personal style. Some tips for approaching articles like this is to begin by flipping through each page before you even begin reading to get a basic sense of how the essay is structured: does it have pictures with captions? Is it divided into sections with topical subheadings? If there are subheadings, read these first in sequence to get an initial sense of how the essay is laid out. Do the subheadings include names of people, places, time periods, historical events, etc.? If so, you can make note of them since they are more than likely central to the essay’s argument. Flipping through all the pages first will also help you to realize that, in the case of our assigned reading, 11 pages are endnotes and for reference only. What can be helpful is to have a pen in hand so you can make note of any keywords you come across that might be important. For some people, the physical motion of writing words down by hand can help etch them into their minds more effectively than typing on a computer. Look at the pictures included; are they very different, or similar, to one another? Skim through the captions for each picture; if dates are included, keep them in mind; if names are included, note how frequently the same ones appear in other captions, etc. Taking these steps before you read can help you at ease. When you are ready to begin reading, you can skim through the whole essay first; read the topic sentences (ie. first sentences) of each paragraph and you will again pick up on keywords that will give you some sense of what the author is aiming to do. Skimming alone will allow you to begin answering some of the guiding questions provided above. For the purposes of this assignment, you do not need to process all the specific details. The key is to get a sense of the author’s central aim, and to be able to cite a few of the author’s most powerful supporting examples. It is not always necessary to read academic writing word for word, especially if you are just trying to get a general idea of the author’s aims. The reason why academic writing is structured in very particular ways is to accommodate different levels of engagement; some readers will just want the gist of the argument, while other readers will want all the details. Familiar structures of writing allow different readers to find the information they’re looking for more easily.
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