Narrative vs Description in Historiography

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

It is Laurent Stern’s belief it seems that the most successful method of accounting how ‘non-natural’ events is brought about is through a narrative of a purposeful agent’s beliefs, intentions and goals. In a larger affair, historians interpretation in historiography are in two contexts, that is, evaluative claims and descriptive claims. According to Stern, descriptions account for the circumstances surrounding participants in historical events, whereas, narratives relate to what these participants did or brought about.

Assuming that the Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy is what you would call a ‘non-natural’ event, then the ‘participants’ are inclusively the ‘dangerous animals’ and the soldiers carrying out this policy etc. So in the evaluative context of this history, it’s significance was marked as a suggested propaganda movement to enforce a total state of war across Japan. In the descriptive context, the dangerous animals were systematically disposed out, mostly through the method of poison.

Stern focuses on narratives about human actions as “…human actions are narrated…their circumstances and settings are described.” Such narratives must have assigned cause and effects. The historian as a narrator establishes a viewpoint within the parameters of the beginning, middle and end of a narrative. The beginning presents an initial situation. The middle shows agents bringing about a change in the initial situation in response to a need. The end presents an altered situation brought about by the agents. This structure seems logical to me but perhaps to rigid to be considered a narrative, even for a historical one.


Stern, L. 1990, ‘Narrative versus Description in Historiography’, New Literary History, vol. 21, no. 3, New Historicisms, New Histories, and Others, pp. pp. 555-568.


History & Historiography in Process

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

The notion that there is a unbridgeable gap between now and then as the “…past is seen as completely different from the present” which calls for greater continuity in History is put forward by Anders Schinkel. Personally, when I visualise something from ‘then’ I impose a filter of illusory; as though ‘then’ is not the reality, in spite of the factual accounts and circumstances. Hence, I cannot help but think of History in the context of a narrative. Conversely, Schinkel suggests that in modern philosophy “…the distinction between appearance and reality is grounded upon the distinction between subject and object.” Thus the world is an “experiencing world” where the objective and the subjective occurs simultaneously, “…it experiences and is experienced.” So then, Schinkel suggests, as an idea that is broadly accepted, that our experience is always subjective, therefore, we cannot know reality itself, but only its appearance.

Then I could say that this project within which I encompass an essence of historiography is inevitably a subjective experience founded upon an objective event. It is true to reality in its core facts asserted, but it would be difficult to ascertain the truth to reality of history in the way it captures the ‘atmosphere’ of this certain time, as “…historical interpretations can be colored too strongly by subjective factors.” which is what my illustration would infer as a result.

In context of my project, I think that it falls under subjective truth. As you are given the general facts and circumstances of this history, yet the illustrations encourages a subjective experience as an outcome of perception.


Schinkel, A. 2004, ‘History and Historiography in Process’, History and Theory, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. pp. 39-56.

Thinking Temporally or Modernizing Anthropolgy

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Most of the content of this article I did not find relevant, however there was one point that Donham made that I do find interesting. He suggests a narrative approach to historical anthropological explanation where –

Emergent qualities of events require narrative for explanation, narrative that encompass within itself the narratives of social actors themselves.

My understanding of this point is that participants, environments and objects involved in an event are the social actors of a narrative, and intrinsically the narrative informs an explanation relative to those said qualities.

So one could say that the ‘dangerous animals’, who were fated to be disposed, are the social actors of the narrative of Wartime Zoo Policy along with those who imposed those orders and reasons for this policy.



Donham, D.L. 2001, ‘Thinking Temporally or Modernizing Anthropology’, American Anthropologist, vol. 103, no. 1, pp. pp. 134-149.

History as Narrative

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

In terms of relativity of my own thoughts and the context of my project, Louch’s established argument for historians assuming an objective “…to lay a continuum of events related in such a way as to meet the condition of narrative smoothness.” where those connections or events are not casual nor statistical. In this article, Louch puts forward Strawson’s beliefs where a visual model suggests that explanation can be provided simply by filling in the gaps of perception and that narrative, ideally, stands proxy for experience. So, could I then suggest that illustration as narrative stands proxy for an experience of historical interpretation? The article goes on to suggest that a Historian re-creates for his readers what he has seen or studied, thus provides a proxy experience for an audience. Therefore, as the illustrator, I too am re-creating a proxy experience for an audience, but through a different medium.

Historiography is grounded by explanation of cause and effect of events. The concept of cause “…is highly protean” as a style of narration. Louch suggests that narration is one possible technique of explanation, yet the task is cumulative – “…a business of filling in more and more gaps. Thus eliminating or softening the breaks in narrative smoothness.” – and consequently it is unreasonable to suppose that there could ever be a finished account of such a narrative. This is further enforced by the fact that the composition of a narrative is subject to perspective as we see different chains  of events and are given different starting points and finish lines.

All in all Louch states that a –

Historian sees a sequence of events as connected, belonging together. having an identity, and then constructs narrative that reveals the course of evolution, of connectedness, among these events.

Taking this argument in a more abstract form, Illustration is the narrative tool that fills the gaps of perception of a historical narrative. This is more of a haptic experience as opposed to an academic one. So the illustrations of my project potentially provides a visual experience that stands as a proxy for an audience – thus, by engaging with this project, the ‘reader’ is a proxy to a visual historical experience. This experience would inform your own narrative through illustration as a design of historiography.


Louch, A.R. 1969, ‘History as Narrative’, History and Theory, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. pp. 54-70.

Mayumi Itoh

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Upon reading more of Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy | The Silent Victims of World War II, I felt that the style of writing of this publication was not only insightful, but quite evocative and poetic. Mayumi Itoh paints a deep illustration of this narrative of history through her haikus after each chapter of the book.

“Raion no keishi rakuen tsuru no naku”

The crane cries in the paradise where the lions had disappeared.

As a female historian, Mayumi Itoh’s publication projects compassion and sentimental worldiness that is perhaps natural to her sex. Undoubtedly there is strong and thorough research that supports this account of World War II. It would be a question that I would like to ask her If I have the opportunity. Whether being a female makes her historical writing, approach to research and subjects of interest present a marked difference against males?

I would love to know more about her practice of writing and her thoughts about history as narrative. All I know about Mayumi Itoh is this:

Mayumi Itoh
Associate Professor, Political Science UNLV

Mayumi Itoh received her Ph.D. from the City University of New York, specializing in International Relations and Comparative Politics.  Before she came to the USA, Dr. Itoh worked at Amnesty International, the Japanese Section and the Southeast Asia Promotion Center for Trade, Investment and Tourism (Intergovernmental Organization between ASEAN and Japan) in Tokyo.  Her areas of interest are comparative politics and international relations, especially in northeast Asia.  She has published articles on Japanese domestic politics and foreign policy, and two books, Globalization of Japan: Japanese Sakoku Mentality and U.S. Efforts to Open Japan (St. Martin’s Press, 1998), and The Rise and Fall of the Hatoyama Dynasty: Japanese Political Leadership Through the Generations (2003, Palgrave/St. Martin’s Press).

Ethos of Illustory

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Contextually, I see my project as a poetic interpretation of a historical narrative through the ‘authorship’ of illustration. I cannot take credit as a historian nor even an academic. But I do exert my ethos of interest and motivation of evoking history through means of narrative illustration. When I mean ‘narrative illustration‘, I mean to re-create an experience for the audience of how I visualise history and allow the audience to also make their own interpretations though the information I provide in amalgamation with the illustrations I present.

Even though I claim no credit as a historian or an academic, I do consider it important to have a general understanding of historiography, in terms of the writing of history, to inform my own process of interpreting history. During my senior years of high-school, I thoroughly enjoyed studying Modern History, especially about World War II in the Pacific and investigating the history and culture of Japan. I see this project as a reflective project of that interest and an opportunity to refine that pre-existing knowledge of Modern History.

Hence, in this archive blog, will you find summaries of literature I have briefly read and applied to my understanding of historiography and history as narrative. This process is to add depth and substance to my illustrations and enlighten my practice that is appropriate to the context of the project.

The image included is of my notebook where I write my notes, thoughts and ideas.

The Silent Victims

July 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

I could not believe I found this book

Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy | The Silent Victims of World War II by Mayumi Itoh.

Initially my project was to be an exploration of visualising as World War II Campaign, and I had chosen the Sino-Japanese War. Then I came across this thoroughly researched and detailed book accounting the Wartime Zoo Policy and the animals destroyed in consequence. It goes back to that story in Wind-Up Bird Chronicle I mentioned in the previous post. In fact, Murakami’s novel is actually mentioned in Itoh’s book and thus discovered that parts of that narrative is historical fact and that Murakami is known to include history in his novels as an intricate part of his narratives. Itoh’s book discusses the background of this policy then discusses the animals that were destroyed from each Japanese Zoo. It also goes into Europe, however I’m focusing on Japan for my project. This project allows me to revisit my interest in Modern History. The book also includes photographs of the animals and tables communicating the animals destroyed and how they were destroyed. I think that this account is a unique perspective of World War II; it shows the implications of war beyond man – in response to the publication’s dedication –

 For the animals who perished in the march of human folly

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Literature category at Illustory.