Asian Art in the West


Review of a new exhibit at the MFA Boston:

“A taste for Asian things is often associated with Commodore Matthew Perry’s “opening” of Japan in 1853-1854, and the subsequent vogue, among French Impressionist painters and American architects, for the beguiling asymmetries and exquisite workmanship of a half-imagined East. But a horizon-expanding exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a historic hub of international trade, shows that the prodigious appetite for Asian luxury goods—graceful porcelain jars, gilded folding screens, shimmering lacquered chests, colorful Indian bedspreads—began centuries earlier, in a Pacific pivot that long preceded Commodore Perry and President Barack Obama, and with startling aesthetic results. Spanning the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century, the show brings together nearly one hundred objects in every medium imaginable, including feathers and seashells, from four continents.”

American Exceptionalism Now

From Vladimir Putin’s 2013 editorial on Syria in the New York Times:


“A Plea for Caution from Russia”

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

ObamaSpeechThumbnail_0From Obama’s speech (9/10/13):

Obama’s address to the nation on Syria

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them….America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.

From John Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” (1630):

We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and JohnWinthropColorPortraitglory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “may the Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.

From John Cotton’s “The Divine Right to Occupy the Land” (1630):

John.Cotton.croppedThe placing of a people in this or that country is from the appointment of the Lord…And when we do withal discern that God giveth us these outward blessings from His love in Christ, and maketh comfortable provision as well for our soul as for our bodies by the means of grace, then do we enjoy our present possession as well by gracious promise as by the common, and just, and bountiful providence of the Lord.

The politics of “Plantations”

115_1546 revOn our field trips this semester, we’ll be paying attention to the language historical sites use to describe themselves.

This article, which has been making the rounds among humanities scholars, proposes (among other things) that we stop using the word “plantations,” which has romantic connotations, and instead call them “slave labor camps.”

A history professor suggested that these sites might have a harder time renting out their spaces for wedding receptions if you had to write “reception to follow at Woodburn Slave Labor Camp” on your invitations.