Dr. David Chu Distinguished Visitor Lecture: Empires and the Idea of Culture


The word “culture” in English today gestures toward two distinct ideas: one of a universal hierarchy of values, embodied in canons of art and literature; and the other of a plurality of systems of value associated with different societies. In what was called the “culture life,” cosmopolitan intellectuals in Japan between the two world wars conceived a third sort of culture in an attempt to bridge Eurocentric hierarchy and local particularism. The idea also gained currency in colonial Korea. Although the “culture life” in Japan collapsed in the 1930s under the weight of its own idealism, it had a long life in Korea and saw a revival in Japan after the war. The unresolved dialectic between universal Culture and particular cultures was later absorbed into heritage protection policy under UNESCO, where Japan played an important role as one of the most powerful non-European participants. This lecture will show how a hybrid conception of culture was enabled by Japan’s position among the imperial powers, and how the fall of the Japanese empire and the dismantling of European colonial empires redefined what could be imagined under the rubric of culture.

Jordan Sand is Professor of Japanese History and Culture at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He holds a masters degree in architecture history from the University of Tokyo and a doctorate in history from Columbia University. His research focuses on material culture and the history of everyday life. He is the author of House and Home in Modern Japan (Harvard University Press, 2004), Tokyo Vernacular: Common Spaces, Local Histories, Found Objects (University of California Press, 2013) and 帝国日本の生活空間 (Living Spaces of Imperial Japan; Iwanami shoten, 2015). He has also published on historical memory, museums and cultural heritage policy, and the history of food. He has served as visiting professor at Sophia University, the University of Tokyo, University of Michigan, and the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. He is presently a visiting researcher at Waseda University working on a study of the history of slums in Tokyo and other Asian cities.