What We're Doing
Bodies and Structures began as an attempt to do two things. One, to create a platform for spatial history that reflected the depth of scholarship emerging on the subject in the field of Japanese history and elsewhere. And two, to facilitate the collaborative scholarship that spatial history is particularly suited to—in fact, we argue, which it requires if it is to fulfill its methodological potential. Our thought was that by so doing, spatial history could reveal new questions, interpretations, and narratives about the past(s).
The essay that follows elaborates the project's methodology, its interventions, and its contributions. While it is possible to use this site without reading the essay, we believe that your encounter with Bodies and Structures will be richer if you begin with an understanding of the structural and conceptual choices that we have made and a sense of the historiographical interventions that we aim to achieve. The essay, like the site itself, is a work in progress. We look forward to hearing your feedback.
Essay by David R. Ambaras and Kate McDonald
Click here for a downloadable version.
Note: This essay was originally published with Bodies and Structures 1.0 in January 2019. It refers to a tag map and particular Crossings, such as Built Environments, that we have updated and revised for Bodies and Structures 2.0. It also mentions our desire to build certain features in the future, such as the Lenses tool, which we have now built. We offer the essay here as a explanation of the thinking behind the Bodies and Structures project and as an artifact of how far we have come since we first put our thoughts to screen. — D.A. and K.M. (September 2021)
Bodies and Structures provides a way to work with space historically. Bodies and Structures enables users to identify, explore, and analyze the shared and distinctive dynamics of place-making within a particular historical space without reifying any one perspective. In contrast to other digital mapping projects, Bodies and Structures does not aim to represent a historical place in its entirety or even in its many layers. Rather the site treats the concepts of “space” and “place,” as well as particular articulations of these concepts (e.g., “Japan”), as themselves historical categories whose investigation reveals new questions, interpretations, and narratives about the past(s).
Bodies and Structures uses a method that we call “reading across places.” Reading across places means allowing concepts of space to emerge from different articulations and experiences of place and vice versa. The major strains of spatial history tend to emphasize absolute spatial structures (e.g., Lefebvre 1991, Harvey 1989, and Soja 1989). Place, in such conceptualizations, emerges as a product of particular spatial formations, or, at worst, a mere subdivision of or position in space (Ethington 2007, 482). Yet it is equally possible to produce spatial structures through place. This is true even down to the “lived body” itself, which, as Edward Casey argues, constitutes a place from which particular orientations emerge (in front/behind; right/left; etc) (Casey 1996, 17, 24, 39; cited and elaborated in Ethington 2007, 482). Rather than take a position on what we might call the “bodies vs. structures” debate, Bodies and Structures holds the two in tension. We use the method of reading across places to enable users to analyze the production of spaces and places from either direction and as a dialectic.
The architecture of Bodies and Structures encourages reading across places. The assemblage is composed of multiple “modules,” each of which analyze primary documents to reveal a particular historical instantiation of space and place. These spaces and places do not come together into a whole. Instead, they suggest the myriad articulations and experiences of place and the multiplicity of historical spaces that these experiences of place enable—they reflect Doreen Massey’s definition of space as “the simultaneity of stories so far” (Massey 2005, 9). Individual historians contribute these modules. As such, Bodies and Structures reflects the broad range of spatial historical research currently being undertaken in the field, not a predetermined vision of what constitutes or should constitute the contents of spatial history or its methodological boundaries.
Like other “deep mapping” projects, some of the modules in Bodies and Structures offer a “finely detailed, multimedia depiction of a place and the people, animals, and objects that exist within it and are thus inseparable from the contours and rhythms of everyday life” (Bodenhamer, Corrigan, and Harris 2015, 3). Yet alongside such an approach, which maps a single place in its many layers, the ensemble of modules maps the production of historical concepts of space and place themselves within and across specific locales. In this sense, we draw on the notion of “thick mapping” elaborated by the authors of the Hypercities project:
[Thick mapping] is infinitely extensible and rhizomatic in practice, simultaneously moving vertically and horizontally, down and across. Intertextual play exists side-by-side with historical layers of meaning-making; practices of cognitive mapping are both global and local but never simply mimetic, as if a stable external reality can be reliably and definitively mapped…. And perhaps most importantly, thick maps betray their conditions of possibility, their authorship and contingency, without naturalizing or imposing a singular world-view. (Presner, Shepard, and Kawano 2014, 18)
Digital spatial history projects frequently rely on the cartographic map as the framework or foundation for representing space and place. What is lost in these representations is the story of how different experiences and articulations of place produce or invoke different concepts of space and vice-versa. The flat cartographic projection elides the multiplicity of space by subordinating place to an absolute space—place is reduced to coordinates on a map (e.g., latitude and longitude) or relations between points whose meaning and stability is presumed (e.g., “East of Manchester”). These techniques are limiting in other ways. For example, how does one geolocate a Japanese businessman’s floor plan for an ideal drugstore in the early 1920s, the subject of Tim Yang’s module? Although this document does not fit into our typical notion of a “place,” the plan relates topologically to certain geographical locales—for example, the nodes of the Hoshi Pharmaceutical retail network, the specific midwestern American drugstores that inspired it, the physical itineraries of the men who traveled to investigate business practices abroad, and so on. Moreover, as a representation of space (in Lefebvre’s terms) the drugstore floor plan existed (a) nowhere (as in a utopia, or as in an abstract domain), and (b) on the printed page of the company newspaper, itself a place constituting and constituted by the space of the Hoshi enterprise and its larger contexts. In both cases, the plan is rich with spatial meaning yet irreducible to the coordinates of the flat map.
We thus agree with Edward Casey that “‘Map’ needs to be liberated from its alliance with modern cartography so that it can resume its original sense of charting one’s way in a given place or region.” Mapping thus becomes “place-finding,” and a map “can be something quite informal—indeed, anything that indicates a sense of direction and gives a basis for orientation" (Casey 2007, 512; see also Pile and Thrift 1995). As process rather than result, the map re-establishes the visibility of its conditions of possibility: the itineraries and movements that were erased when it turned, in the modern era, into “a totalizing stage” on which to “exhibit the products of knowledge [and] form tables of legible results” (Certeau 1984, 121, italics in original).
In this spirit, Bodies and Structures offers two ways for users to explore the multiplicity of space and place. One, we build our maps from the scholarly ground up, reading a broad variety of sources (and kinds of sources) for their own geographies of place names, regionalizations, referents, boundaries, temporalities, eventfulness, and significations, as well as for the embodied practices they constitute and through which they are constituted. Two, we designed the Bodies and Structures platform to afford several ways of articulating relationships among places and across conceptual as well as physical space. Users can begin to analyze space historically through Google maps, which index modules and pages by place geographically (although each of these representations immediately reveals its limitations -- thus highlighting one of our guiding premises). Alternately, users can begin their analysis of space through the Tag Index, which represents concepts of space visually as a hierarchical, force-directed “map.” (We are currently developing this visualization tool. The tags, generated manually through close reading across the modules, represent our own abstractions and intellectual intervention.) Finally, the Scalar platform permits commenting on each page; these comments—the marginalia—will thus help to shape the space of the project, giving it new meaning and possibilities.
Bodies and Structures uses digital tools to create a research environment that embodies the spatial turn’s theoretical interventions into the writing of history. The digital environment enables new forms of close reading—the traditional practice of the humanities—within hyperlinked, nonlinear narrative space. The environment itself encourages "an associative, connecting method of assemblage [best] described as rhizomatic," in which unexpected amalgams or connections emerge through "forced juxtaposition of dissimilar components designed to produce frictions" (Pearson and Shanks 2014, 205). In this sense, Bodies and Structures uses digital tools to create spatial histories that are performances (of juxtapositions) as well as processes (of multivocal interpretation).
Through these explorations, we invite users to grapple with what it means to write a “spatial history” in which the significance is not the articulation of a chronology of spatial thought or territorial transformation but rather the illumination of the multiple topologies of historical experience (See also Gregory 2009). What we contribute through Bodies and Structures is a platform—a place—from which to elaborate and interpret the processes of emplacing and “em-spacing” in which our historical actors were and we as scholars are engaged (including the transgressive practices that bring the politics of space and place into starkest view); and to offer it up as part of an evolving, multiscalar, and global conversation on the fundamental importance of space and place to humanistic inquiry.
Two Core Concepts
Two concepts govern the architecture of the Bodies and Structures site and its approach to spatial history: “place” and “spatialities.” These represent two of the major ways that historians have approached the study of space. In that sense, they provide immediately legible, historiographical entry points to the Bodies and Structures project. At the same time, place and spatialities are, in historical fact, interlinked—experiences of and actions in place help constitute spatialities, while spatialities constitute experiences of and possibilities for place. There is no one direction of cause and effect, material and discursive: rather, the relationship is dialectical. Bodies and Structures encourages module builders and users to make explicit their interpretation of these dynamic processes in specific contexts, and to explore how they are given presence and extended relationally through ideational and material “crossings” (which we discuss below).
Place has multiple aspects. Yi-Fu Tuan (1979) describes them as “scene,” “status,” and “sense.” John Agnew uses “locale,” “location,” and “essence.” In both cases, the components reflect distinct meanings. As “scene/locale,” place refers to the material setting where lives are lived and social relations are constituted. “Location/status” refers to a place’s situation within a system of production/reproduction ("a spatially extensive division of labor") and a political order; location is thus "the effects upon locales of social and economic processes operating at wider scales" (Agnew 1993, 262-263). Places can be located along production, supply, or migration chains; as units within legal and bureaucratic systems; as capitals or frontiers of nation-states or cores/peripheries of empires or regions; as “civilized” or “savage”; and so on. “Sense/essence,” meanwhile, speaks to the perceived, lived, and affective dimensions of place: where meaning is made. These meanings emerge from the interplay of subjectivity and structure. Place is ordered through power relations—“normative landscapes” that prescribe “right behavior” for a place and ascribe to any person/thing a quality of being “in place” or “out of place” (Cresswell 1996)—and contestations of those power relations (e.g., efforts by women, minorities, the disabled, colonial subjects, queer subjects, or others to achieve “visibility,” “get a place at the table,” or assert radically heterogeneous meanings of place).
Places are events (instantiations of space and time); they gather people, things, ideas, memories, etc. (Casey 1996, Ethington 2007). Though place emerges from and entails the making of boundaries and has often been associated with fixedness in contrast to the mobility of space, it is constituted through both internal movements and movements that cross it (Cresswell 2014). As an evolving articulation of multiple flows and trajectories in space-time, it is hardly limited to the exclusionary, essentializing forms of identity that its “defenders” frequently champion (Massey 1994, 2005). At the same time, such ideological claims, often written into the physical landscape, continue to constitute important elements within deep/thick maps of places.
These varied definitions make clear that place can be both subjective and objective—it is “between,” as J. Nicholas Entrikin (1991) puts it. Bodies and Structures uses place in all of these senses. It is not merely a point on a map (though it is also that). It can also be an affect, a relationship, and a site on a variety of scales. Users can explore place through its different components. We mark specific locales through geotagging (latitude and longitude) and specifying particular sites (e.g. Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo's Nihonbashi neighborhood; "Osaka"—though these are as much loci of meaning as neutral toponyms); page titles and/or URLs, etc.). Relative location appears in different ways for different modules, for example with pages that describe points within a given spatiality (e.g., as one point within a network of knowledge circulation or an itinerary of travel). Relative location also appears in the context of the Scalar architecture itself, as in the case of the place of a page within a given pathway or within a given tag (e.g., "Page 1 in XX Pathway"; a subtag of "Boundaries"). (Moreover, each page in Scalar becomes its own place, gathering things into new configurations of meaning and connection.) Individual modules also address essence or senses of place as historical representations of the authentic or essential character of places, which can then be compared across multiple historical contexts.
Spatialities refers to the material socio-spatial structures and metageographies within which places are located (e.g., networks, regions, core-periphery, etc.), and which make boundaries, flows, vehicles, figures, imaginative geographies, and built environments socially meaningful. Spatialities are always multiple. A place, for example, can be located within a core-periphery formation as well as a network formation. A given spatiality can have multiple variations of a given unit of spatial meaning. Each formation creates particular constraints and identities, and facilitates the entrenchment of particular power relations. Spatialities remain open to tensions, ruptures, or transformations due to changing relations among constituent elements, shifting politics of place, and other economic and geopolitical factors.
The term “spatialities” is deliberately capacious. Featherstone et al. define spatialities as “the diverse ongoing connections and networks that bind different parts of the world together and that are constituted through (and in fact constitute) particular sites and places" (Featherstone et al. 2007, 383, 386-87). We likewise use the term in a broad sense in order to capture the dynamism of socio-spatial practices in all their variety, and to enable the construction of historical narratives that consider the structuring power of spatialities beyond that of the nation-state and industrial capitalism. Of course, no account of the modern era can ignore these two spatial elephants. At the same time, there are transnational and transgressive stories to be told in which the nation-state/international system and industrial capitalism constitute only one part of the spatial “stage.”
Bodies and Structures recognizes spatialities on multiple scales and chronologies: the historical, geographic and discursive spaces depicted in our primary sources; the conceptual space of the tag index; and the present-day space of the digital environment itself. Each module references and invokes particular spatialities. For example, "Cai Peihuo's Inner Territory" explores the political history of the core-periphery (naichi-gaichi) spatial construct, which was both the hegemonic imaginative geography of the later Japanese empire and an imperial formation of administrative policies and legal frameworks that divided the imperial social body into “inner” and “outer” groupings along racial, ethnic, linguistic, and spatial axes (McDonald 2017). "The Drugstore as Contact Zone," on the other hand, highlights the interrelationship between a capitalist networking of space and a core-periphery / West–Orient spatial ideology as it explores the circulation and commodification of medical knowledge and transformation of marketing in the 1920s. Other modules explore how the concept of absolute, measurable space itself is crucial to the discursive and material practices of power—e.g., frontier mappers, air raid planners, possibly even franchise network builders. Scalar's nonlinear environment and visualization tools allow users to explore spatialities conceptually rather than geographically or chronologically, and to consider the multiplicity of spatial relations even within a given historical time and place.
Place and spatialities, and their mutual interaction, shape the material experience and discursive representation of belonging, the formation of social bodies and ideas of the social, the constitution of subjectivities, and thus the play of power in particular historical moments. Bodies and Structures focuses on seven broad elements that illuminate this relationship between the conceptual and the historical: “boundaries,” ”flows,” “figures,” “imaginative geographies,” “vehicles,” “built environments,” and “material culture.” Operating in tandem with our two core concepts, these elements offer concrete tools for analyzing how particular instantiations of space/place-time take form. As tags, they also serve as nodal points for drawing connections across modules—they are topoi within our digital environment—and ways of tracking forms of thought and action across a range of contexts in imperial Japan and its Asian region (extensible, as in the notion of the thick map, to other imperial/national formations, other parts of the world, all of which inform each other in a global field of empires/nations). At one level, these elements bring our analysis into the material constitution of place and space. At another, they constitute "commonplaces"—"analogies, the same bits of doctrine…the same modes or lines of proof, the same myths’ … that help us to analyze "not so much what [actors] are thinking about as much as what they are thinking with" (Crane 1954, 74-75, cited in Ethington 2007, 484). Like the two core concepts of place and spatialities, they engage both the local and the metaspatial.
Boundaries, “a social form that is common to both consciousness and to society” (Ethington 2007, 480), figure at the core of place- and space-making. To Georg Simmel, “By virtue of the fact that we have boundaries everywhere and always, so accordingly we are boundaries” (Simmel 1971, 353, italics in original, quoted in Ethington 2007, 480; see also Certeau 1984, 127). Reflecting on this claim, Casey notes, “It points to a species of edge as inherent to human interaction, thereby suggesting that the most important arena of action is not in the center of the stage but at the periphery—or better, peripheries, as there is always more than one kind of edge in a given circumstance. Rather than being the zone in which human action gives out or comes to an end, the boundary is precisely where it intensifies: where it comes to happen in the most effective or significant sense.” He thus concludes that “boundaries act as events in their own right,” and that “the boundaries…of places serve as the matrix of historical action” (Casey 2007, 508-509).
Though Casey differentiates boundaries (porous, permitting crossing) from borders (fixed, prohibitive), critical border studies would suggest less need for such a firm distinction: borders connect as well as divide; they enable crossing as well as deflection; they are epistemological as well as material. Like the territory they purport to enclose, borders are not self-evident markers of sovereignty but “complex social institutions” (Mezzadra and Neilsen 2013, 3) and discursive constructions whose historical evolution is informed by the vagaries of state formation, imperialism, and economic integration (e.g., Agnew 2008, Paasi 2009, Parker and Vaughan-Williams 2009 and 2012; Nail 2016). Frontiers denote vectors and limits of expansion and lines of contact: place being (re)made and (re)spatialized through surveying, mapping, settlement, etc., and thus written into geographies of empire or nation. Borderlands, meanwhile, constitute ambivalent zones in which diverse spatialities contend and coexist, revealing the relationships among actors who are not only separated but also connected by borders. These zones, shaped by social ecologies that predate or emerge in tension with the formation of nation-states in the imperial and postcolonial world, offer alternative ways of conceptualizing the workings of power from the local to the global level (see, e.g. Baud and van Schendel 1997; van Schendel 2005).
While fear of the other may constitute "the true essence of borders, past and present, territorial or aspatial,” (Newman 2006, 177-78), borders, and other boundaries, also incite the desire for what lies beyond them: in an exotic or dangerous land, in the imperial metropole, through the lens of the camera, or across the threshold of the department store or drugstore (see, e.g., Kristeva 1982). Above all, any investigation of boundaries must attend to the specificities of the act of crossing (or inability to do so): material and discursive experiences where structure and agency produce events that are contingent, emplaced and embodied.
“Flows” is a deliberately broad term to describe diverse forms of movement of people, things, ideas, and energy that both structure spatialities and make places as they are channeled by them. While one approach to human flows is to categorize them (as, e.g., migrations, pilgrimages, invasions, refugee flows, commuter patterns, etc.), Cresswell's concept of "constellations of mobility"—"historically and geographically specific formations of movements, narratives about mobility and mobile practices"—offers a useful framework for thinking about the ways in which mobilities both produce and are produced by social relations of power (Cresswell 2010, 17, 22). Massey, meanwhile, calls attention to the "power geometry…[that] concerns not merely the issue of who moves and who doesn't…[but also] power in relation to the flows and the movement" (Massey 1994, 149). Flows of people interact with the circulation of commodities and money (and people can flow as commodities) and of ideas, from the global transmission of expert knowledge (e.g., on frontier settlement) to the local exchange of social information (e.g., through intimate encounters with others).
As for energy, we can consider the transformations of given material environments as a core element of place-making and spatialization. The creation of an urban “second nature” that subsumes nature to capitalism constitutes one critical part of the modern history with which we are engaging, as does the constitutive power of networks to both cohere and “splinter” places (Graham and Marvin 2002; Hirsh 2016). Yet energy flows, in the form of ocean currents, northern continental winters, coal deposits or camphor forests, etc., conditioned and were subjected to human interactions and social power structures. Ideas of the tropics informed not only Japanese colonialist projects but a global set of exploitative and disciplinary enterprises with which they articulated (Tomiyama 1995; Tierney 2010). Manipulation of air flows also helped bring the empire to its collapse by magnifying the destructive power of American fire bombings in Tokyo (and elsewhere), while the heat these events produced turned riverine circuits, long part of the world of urban circulations, into boiling portals to the world beyond (e.g., Sumida Local Culture Resource Center 2011).
Imaginative geographies may be defined as "the ideological practice of every social formation that becomes aware of the existence of more or less remote lands and neighboring peoples" (Porter 1991, 20-21). As Edward Said defined them in Orientalism (1979), imaginative geographies are techniques of representation, ways of othering spaces and places through recourse to specific images, codes, and conventions, that both reflect and enable relations of power. Imaginative geography may serve as an expression of social anxieties or a means of diffusing a perceived threat (e.g., through the construction of "pure" and "polluted" spaces), or as a means of preparing spaces for colonization or other forms of appropriation (e.g., by identifying "uncivilized," "savage," or "backward" lands and peoples, or "empty" spaces devoid of their actual inhabitants) (Said 1979, Gregory 1995, Watkins 2015, Fields 2011, Sibley 1995). Conversely, imaginative geographies provide a shared sense of place and identity to those who participate, knowingly or unconsciously, in these modes of representation and subjectification. By (re)defining and (re)situating places, figures/bodies, and cultures, these techniques of representation enable or buttress specific spatial orders while subverting or transforming others.
Imaginative geographies may also provoke contestations over place and power. Chinese representations of the Mongolian frontier, for example, were contingent upon and contended with those produced by Japanese and Russian/Soviet imperial agencies, with all of these being located within shifting discourses of global imperial competition and national territoriality. The imperial Japanese construction of naichi and gaichi produced alternative imaginings of the landscape of citizenship and subjecthood. Mitsukoshi's wartime magazine balanced the contradictory and complementary tasks of imagining an Asia unified through the provision of goods and labor for consumption by the middle classes of the multiplying core urban zones, and reassuring bourgeois audiences of their continuing connections to cosmopolitan “civilization” even as Japan waged war against its geopolitical core. Meanwhile, we as scholars must reflect on the imaginative geographies that we bring to bear on the task of writing (spatial) histories: for example, the concept of the Sinosphere as counter-map to that of the imperial nation-state (Ambaras 2018).
Figures are geographic imaginaries applied to the representation of social groups. For example, referring to a person as an "immigrant" immediately invokes a spatial referent. The immigrant is, by definition, from "elsewhere." Immigrant also invokes its opposite, the native—the one who is from "here." The designation of a person as an “official” (as broad as that term may be) invokes a sense of territoriality, with its attendant power dynamics (intrusion, mapping, concealment, etc.). The figure of the (colonial) “settler” embodies or represents conceptions of “empty” space, images of paradise or inhospitable terrain, and processes of domestication or expulsion, while invoking corollary figures such as the “aborigine” or “savage” (which carries its own spatio-temporal connotations).
The Figures crossing highlights spatially-inflected social taxonomies and draws historical and conceptual connections across modules, times, and places. Figures are specific manifestations of the broader spatial formations, imaginative geographies, and ideas of place that give their spatiality meaning. Figures may also be spark points of political movements and counter-hegemonic discourses, or invitations to new empirical research that recovers the spatiality of marginalized social groups. Specific groups figured as “threats from outside,” such as the late nineteenth century idea that Chinese migrants were “invasive,” can be points of entry for analyzing or comparing imaginative geographies, spatialities, and place in particular historical moments.
Vehicles (two types)
Vehicles move things from point to point. They are the physical conduits and/or apparatuses that make the communication and/or exchange of people, goods, and information possible, such as ships, trains, and telegraph wires; and they are the media that facilitate the exchange of meaning, such as surveys, magazines, exhibit displays, and letters. Vehicles are thus essential components of Flows and of Built Environments. Yet they are also places, place-makers, and space-makers in their own right.
Traditionally, vehicles’ power of place- and space-making has been limited to their role in producing “time-space compression” (Harvey 1989). In these accounts, transport technologies, such as railroads, communications technologies, such as telegraphs, and the networks of wires and rails upon which they moved, shrunk the time it took to move people, goods, and information between places, and thus shrunk the effective distance between points on the globe (for an example of this mode of historical writing, see Rosenberg 2012; for a critique, see Kirsch 1995).
Here we treat the spatiality of Vehicles in a broad sense. Transport technologies, such as trains, ships, and airplanes, produce space, circulate in space, and are themselves places and topoi. Such is the case in David Ambaras’ study of the travels of Ogura Nobu, who finds herself entangled in a web of police surveillance because steamship travel made contact with border agents in Kobe, Moji, and Shanghai inevitable. U.S. Army Air Force B-29s carried people (pilots, bombers) and things (bombs), but also conveyed ideas about power and the obliteration of place. As David Fedman shows, the B-29 encouraged pilots and bombers to see space through the bird’s eye view of their bomb sights, which “measured [destruction] in square miles not human lives.” Intra-empire steamships, in Kate McDonald’s module, also served as microcosms in which passengers enforced and contested the broader spatialization of the empire into groups who moved freely (citizens) and those whose movement the state curtailed (the colonized).
Beyond transport technologies, however, Bodies and Structures modules also explore how communicative media—such as modern cartography, the I-novel, and social surveys—constituted space, circulated in space, and serve as topoi in their own right. Shellen Wu’s module shows how the linked social scientific genres of the plan, the report, the map, and the survey played central roles in the contest between the Chinese, Japanese, and Soviet states to determine the location of Xing An/Shing An, a region in today’s Inner Mongolia. Moreover, the language that particular genres employ is itself spatially informed. This is the case in images captioned by Dr. Charles Gail, which label the locale of the photographs as “Okinawa,” a moniker that situates the islands firmly within the modern international system and a Japanese political space (rather than, for example, Ryūkyū, the name of the independent kingdom, or Ruuchuu, the name of the islands in the Ryūkyūan language).
Built Environments produce and represent space and place. They have a “double reality,” in Thomas Gieryn’s analysis of buildings, as they are “the consequence and structural cause of social practices.” They are symbolic spaces, which are made meaningful through interpretation in particular historical contexts. Yet they are also ideological spaces that act on human action by constraining “agents' conscious apprehension, interpretation or mobilization” or “[structuring] practices without necessarily requiring actors' knowledgeable involvement" (Gieryn 2002, 41, 37). As Leif Jerram argues, built environments constitute the “obdurate matter” of space. Historical analyses may explore how human agents may work against, for, or within particular built environments, but they must in any event take into account the “authority” of the environment (Jerram 2013, 419; and 415, quoting Melosi).
Modules explore the place- and space-making work of Built Environments, which is also, in this formulation, a making of the social itself. The department store is an emporium of modernity, serving as a nodal point of networks of commerce and circulation. Yet it also structures visitors’ bodily movements and produces ways of seeing and self-knowing whose effects reach far beyond the walls of the store itself. Likewise, the built environment of steamships and railway carriages informs how travelers see themselves in relation to others. Mechanisms as straightforward as the class system (first class, second class, etc.) differentiate the traveling public into a spatialized hierarchy of socio-economic groups, reflecting and encouraging other attempts to achieve the rational distribution of social classes through transport and urban design on a larger scale (Hanes 2002). The ship and the carriage spatialize the traveler through more subtle means as well, such as the exposure of those whose limited travel-knowledge / cultural capital marks them as strangers in a strange land (Freedman 2011; a contemporary example: the derisive term “o-nobori-san,” which Tokyoites use to denigrate the lack of sophistication that Japanese travelers who are not Tokyo-natives demonstrate when visiting the capital).
Built Environments create the conditions under which people move, understand their own agency, and construct cognitive, emotional, and mental mappings of the worlds that they transit. They make places through conscious design and through contingent sedimentation. Consider, for example, Tokyo’s shitamachi areas, whose geographic location as part of an urban commercial center (Tokyo) and socio-economic character (manufactures and small industry; wage work) led to distinct architecture (relatively affordable wooden buildings, relatively dense). U.S. Army Air Force planners targeted the neighborhoods in the fire-bombing campaigns for these same reasons (concentrated combustibility). The concentration of bodies, death, and suffering (for of course the neighborhoods also suffered more than their fair share in the fires following the 1923 Great Kantô Earthquake) persist in the present as memories of the shitamachi as a place that is both particular in its horrors and representative of the nation’s history as a whole (Sand 2013).
Material Culture highlights the central role that "things" play in place and mobility. Things produce places and space: the production, circulation, and consumption of clothing, food, or any other good calls forth an organization of rooms, workplaces, stores, storehouses, catalogs, homes, markets, cities, and regions; they likewise call forth an infrastructure that facilitates their circulation. Material culture produces affective sensibilities that locate material practices in place, and enable connections across places. Fashionable clothing signals one’s belonging in particular spaces, such as the consumer space of Tokyo’s Ginza neighborhood. Fashionable clothing might mark its wearer as equally out of place in other shitamachi or lower-class neighborhoods. Modern transportation networks are unworkable without coal, while the availability of coal for export produces spatial relationships and place-identities based around production and exchange. In this sense, things form the material foundation for many of the more mobile concepts that populate Vehicles (e.g., paper), Built Environments (e.g., steel, cement), and Flows (e.g., coal, oil, timber).
Material culture illuminates how certain things connect disparate narratives. For example, Mitsukoshi departments stores and Hoshi Pharmaceutical franchises sold markedly different products. Yet these products shared a particular space in that they were bound together by similar market forces and networks of knowledge exchange. In contrast, Mitsukoshi’s packaged consumables located the department store and its patrons in the space of consumer modernity, while the many heterodox uses of tin cans placed Okinawa outside of this space in Charles Gail’s representations of Okinawa. These crossings reveal how specific material objects create their own spatialities, which intersect with but are not reducible to those of the networks and structures that they power or otherwise enable.
In his essay, “What is Spatial History?” Richard White reflects:
One of the important points that I want to make about visualizations, spatial relations, and spatial history is something that I did not fully understand until I started doing this work…: visualization and spatial history are not about producing illustrations or maps to communicate things that you have discovered. It is a means of doing research; it generates questions that might otherwise go unasked, it reveals historical relations that might otherwise go unnoticed, and it undermines, or substantiates, stories upon which we build our own versions of the past” (White 2010, 6).
It is in this spirit that we have designed Bodies and Structures: as an environment whose analytical framework encourages open-ended conversations about the significance of space to history; as a place where the grassroots of research can shape the pathways of interpretation in new ways; and, above all, as a space of encounter whose contours grow and twist and reach out in as many ways as the loosely-defined “field” of spatial history does.
We orient the current version of Bodies and Structures around a particular geo-historical discursive construct—that of “modern Japan” and the “Japanese Empire.” (Though most of the modules have thus far been built by “Japan” scholars, one “China” scholar has also contributed.) This initial delimitation is a symptom of our own place as scholars. Having been trained as “area” specialists within the discipline of History, our professional and personal place-making is tied to the material and intellectual/imaginal space/places of Japan/East Asia/the Asia-Pacific, and to the political-economic conditions informing those locations—the archives, conferences, and classrooms through which we move and in which our bodies are emplaced; the positions for which we have been hired; the places we construct through our research and writing; the conversations in which we engage; and the specific languages we employ are all part of the place-making apparatus that is historical scholarship. (Moreover, our own excursion into digital space is hardly innocent. Even as it provides us opportunities to think in new ways about the relationally constituted worlds of our scholarly subjects, it reflects in no small part the ongoing re-location of the Humanities within a broader political economy of higher education and knowledge production, and of the individual scholar within frameworks/networks of research and entrepreneurialism.) That said, we cannot discard the [fact] that our historical actors—from statesmen and intellectuals down to itinerant peddlers and village tinsmiths—emplaced themselves and were emplaced, with varying degrees of self-reflexivity, within geotemporal constructs that continue to require investigation for their real and lasting impact on relations among humans and between humans and their environments.
While we cannot erase the contradiction between a geotemporally circumscribed project and a theoretical and analytical orientation grounded in the concept of a “liberated” map, we do seek to mitigate the authority History wields to define place. Going forward, we aim to expand the geographic, chronological and scholarly scope of the project. We seek to incorporate new modules on modern East Asia, broadly conceived, including modules that approach spatial history from the perspectives of environmental history, history of science, and science and technology studies. Further down the road, Web 2.0 technology will make it possible to open certain aspects of the tagging process to user participation and, as the number of modules expands, machine learning. One day users will be able to plot their own itineraries—already partly possible via the grid visualization in Scalar—and build their own modules as well as workspaces for processing materials on the platform.
The current Version 1.0 demonstrates the potential for Bodies and Structures to make a significant contribution to East Asian history and the spatial humanities. Taken as a whole, the modules offer new approaches that expand our understanding of what spatial history can and should be. The site’s core concepts and crossings create an environment where users can read the modules “across places” to explore spatial history in conversation with, but not beholden to, a cartographic map. The tag map and grid visualization allow users to perceive actual or potential connections and launch new excursions through the site’s empirical and conceptual contents. Exploring how the interactions between one (type of) body and one spatial structure differed from that of another (type of) body with the same structure illuminates the multiplicity of spatial experiences, the significance of spatial structures in shaping these spatial experiences, and the significance of moving bodies in creating and challenging these structures. The Scalar platform also permits experimentation with the spatial organization of narratives and arguments. Module authors elaborate on the specific historiographical and/or methodological contributions that working in the Bodies and Structures context produced in “What We Learned.”
The next iteration of the site (Version 2.0) will realize a second component of our spatial historical intervention: new digital tools for spatial historical analysis and interpretation. We are currently developing a suite of analytical visualization tools, which will allow module builders and users to create customized conceptual and geographic maps; and a “user workspace,” which will allow users to save and share their unique encounters with Bodies and Structures. The modifications will also include a “lens” tool, which users and module builders will use to capture slices of content that cut across the categories as we have envisioned them. In addition, the beta version will add fourteen new modules, which will expand the geo-historical scope of the project to East and Southeast Asia. We will provide an updated timeline for Version 2.0 in January 2019.
Following the beta version, we intend to produce a third and final iteration of the Bodies and Structures site. Version 3.0 will expand the site to fifty modules. These new modules will incorporate transpacific and Asian-Pacific spatial histories, early modern spatial histories, and new conceptual maps to reflect the expanded geo-historical content of the site. The third iteration of Bodies and Structures will also develop new Scalar tools. These tools will allow readers to contribute their own sources and plot their own itineraries across the materials. They will also provide us with new platform analytics that will assist us to expand the site’s audiences and refine the site’s contents. We will also pursue new funding opportunities to promote Bodies and Structures as a dynamic tool for teaching spatial history and East Asian / transpacific history.
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