Visualizing the Child: Japanese Children's Literature in the Age of Woodblock Print, 1678-1888

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Visualizing the Child: Japanese Children's Literature in the Age of Woodblock Print, 1678-1888

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Title: Visualizing the Child: Japanese Children's Literature in the Age of Woodblock Print, 1678-1888
Author: Williams, Kristin Holly
Citation: Williams, Kristin Holly. 2012. Visualizing the Child: Japanese Children's Literature in the Age of Woodblock Print, 1678-1888. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Children’s literature flourished in Edo-period Japan, as this dissertation shows through a survey of eighteenth-century woodblock-printed picturebooks for children that feature children in prominent roles. Addressing a persisting neglect of non-Western texts in the study of children’s literature and childhood per se, the dissertation challenges prevailing historical understandings of the origins of children’s literature and conceptions of childhood as a distinct phase of life. The explosive growth of print culture in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Japan not only raised expectations for adult literacy but also encouraged the spread of basic education for children and the publication of books for the young. The limited prior scholarship on Edo-period Japanese children’s books tends to dismiss them as a few isolated exceptions or as limited to moralistic primers and records of oral tradition. This dissertation reveals a long-lasting, influential, and varied body of children’s literature that combines didactic value with entertainment. Eighteenth-century picturebooks drew on literary and religious traditions as well as popular culture, while tailoring their messages to the interests and limitations of child readers. Organized in two parts, the dissertation includes two analytical chapters followed by five annotated translations of picturebooks (kōzeibyōshi and early kusazōshi). Among the illustrators that can be identified are ukiyoe artists like Torii Kiyomitsu (1735-1785). The first chapter analyzes the picturebook as a form of children’s literature that can be considered in terms analogous to those used of children’s literature in the West, and it provides evidence that these picturebooks were recognized by Japanese of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as uniquely suited to child readers. The second chapter addresses the ways in which woodblock-printed children’s literature was commercialized and canonized from the mid-eighteenth century through the latter years of the Edo period, and it shows that picturebooks became source material for new forms of children’s culture during that time. The translated picturebooks, from both the city of Edo and the Kamigata region, include a sample of eighteenth-century views of the child: developing fetus, energetic grandchild, talented student, unruly schoolboy, obedient helper at home, young bride-to-be, and deceased child under the care of the Bodhisattva Jizō.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10403670
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