Stefan TanakaNov 15, 2023
History without Chronology
Lever Press 2019
In this interview, we talk with Stefan Tanaka, professor emeritus of UCSD and a specialist in modern Japanese history. He is author of two books on modern Japan, Japan's Orient: Rendering Pasts into History (1993) and New Times in Modern Japan (2004), and his most recent book is History Without Chronology (Lever Press, 2019) which we discuss here! The host, Sarah Kearns, was introduced to Tanaka's work at a Digital History and Theory Conference and became very interested in becoming a "mystic" of scholarly communications and how narrative and comic books could facilitate a different understanding of history and time. The 1884 project is here.
A bit about the book, which is available open access:
Although numerous disciplines recognize multiple ways of conceptualizing time, Stefan Tanaka argues that scholars still overwhelmingly operate on chronological and linear Newtonian or classical time that emerged during the Enlightenment. This short, approachable book implores the humanities and humanistic social sciences to actively embrace the richness of different times that are evident in non-modern societies and have become common in several scientific fields throughout the twentieth century. Tanaka first offers a history of chronology by showing how the social structures built on clocks and calendars gained material expression. Tanaka then proposes that we can move away from this chronology by considering how contemporary scientific understandings of time might be adapted to reconceive the present and pasts. This opens up a conversation that allows for the possibility of other ways to know about and re-present pasts. A multiplicity of times will help us broaden the historical horizon by embracing the heterogeneity of our lives and world via rethinking the complex interaction between stability, repetition, and change. This history without chronology also allows for incorporating the affordances of digital media.
Sarah Kearns (@annotated_sci) reads about scholarship, the sciences, and philosophy, and is likely drinking mushroom tea.