Connecting in Cyberspace
Kyoto 8 p.m., Istanbul 2 p.m., Ann Arbor 7 a.m.: Three cities, three time zones, three classrooms, three languages, but one collaborative effort. On many occasions over the winter 2014 semester, 1014 Tisch Hall came to life earlier than usual, as graduate students, faculty, and IT staff arrived before sunrise to set up videoconferences with Turkey and Japan for History 698/796, Global History of Gender, Violence, and Sexuality.
History professors Melanie S. Tanielian and Hitomi Tonomura took the lead, bringing together different academic idioms and intellectual traditions pertaining to the study of gender, sexuality, and violence. Preparation for the course began long before 2014, as they searched for the right collaborators. They were fortunate to find partners in Ayse Parla at Sabanci University in Istanbul, Turkey, and, from Kyoto University, Japan, Emiko Ochiai and Masako Makino. Parla and Makino visited Ann Arbor to offer extra lectures and workshops on topics ranging from the education of Armenian migrant children in Turkey to the politics of rape in Japan.
The course was supported by the Rackham Graduate School’s campus-wide initiative to add global engagement to graduate education, allowing students to collaborate with their peers in different world regions on topics of shared interest and concern.
The course demanded agility in thinking, languages, and certainly sleep patterns! The students and instructors translated papers, added interpreters to lectures, and sometimes had to simply “wing it,” establishing a space of linguistic, cultural, and intellectual diversity in a remarkable virtual classroom.
The ultimate purpose of the course for U-M students was to demonstrate how Euro-American scholarship on gender and sexuality, with its firm Orientialist base, has distorted our perceptions of Middle East and Japanese history in innumerable ways. Moving through topics such as same-sex love, desire, companionship, and honor, students began with Afsaneh Najmabadi’s question as to whether, “beyond the Americas,” gender and sexuality are useful categories for historical analysis. They read and considered important challenges posed by scholars working on these topics in the context of Middle Eastern and Japanese society and discussed the categories that define the study of gender and sexuality in the Euro-American academy.
The course culminated in a workshop conference, and students came from as far away as Istanbul and Toronto to present papers. Their topics ranged from US military prostitution in the post-WWII Philippines, the labor system in German New Guinea, and military education in contemporary Turkey to same-sex love in 1930s China. The students’ enthusiasm in both the course and the conference confirmed the value of this kind of interregional engagement.