Zurich: Rise and Expansion

The Zurich sub-project focuses on one particular chronotype (a narration of historical time). “Expansion” was a catch-all phrase for Japanese intellectuals, journalists and activists to position Japan’s engagement with the outside world from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. This was of course a discourse of space—into Northeast and Southeast Asia, and into the Pacific world. But it was also a discourse of time: scholars and journalists looked back to Japan’s historic engagements with Southeast Asia from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries; they drew on European histories of expansion in the eighteenth century; and, combining the two, they projected an age of expansion forward as they imagined Japan’s place in the world in the twentieth century. Our Zurich subproject maps the way that uses of the European past(s) and memories of Japan’s own Asian and European engagements came together in the scholarship of two lesser-known historians and activists in particular, and how the chronotype of “expansion” offers scholars today a more nuanced way of analysing the wider history of Japanese imperialism in the Asia-Pacific world.

Birgit Tremml-Werner’s subproject “Tracing Braided Chronotypes in Transcultural Diplomacy” focuses on early twentieth-century source compilations of pre-modern Japanese relations with the Europeans in South East Asia. In the process of preparing sources for a national history, the first generation of university-trained Japanese scholars collected, translated and annotated language sources on past maritime relations. A close reading of their output provides insights into the temporal dimension of a rapidly changing expansion discourse. In addition, an in-depth terminological analysis of historiographical material describing foreign relations – often implicitly using time frames such as modern or traditional – establishes relevant concepts and terms related to expansion. Zooming in on historian-translator Murakami Naojirō’s work on Japan’s diplomatic past highlights the impact of selective source material on narratives. Against the background of his political engagement and linguistic skills, the project traces the conceptual and terminological markers of historicity in foreign relations scholarship, for instance “friendship”, through a close reading of his scholarship.


Our HERA sub-project (2016-2019) also coincides with the ERC project led by Prof. Dr. Raji Steineck (University of Zurich) on “TIMEJ: Time in Medieval Japan” (2017-2022). We look forward to discussions with Prof. Dr. Steineck and his team on historical conceptualizations of time in East Asia.


Martin Dusinberre

Birgit Tremml-Werner