Artisanal production is touted today as part of Japan’s immutable traditional culture, characterized as a rapidly disappearing form of manual labor and long-held customs that are in sharp contrast to the white collar work in office buildings or government organizations so prevalent today. Similarly, the lives of commoners in premodern Japan are often imagined as being removed from the aesthetics, poetics, and cultural heights of the aristocracy. But were these divisions of social group and status so rigidly defined? In this talk, I will explore the multivalent identities of artisans in medieval Japan (c. 12th to 16th cen). With a special focus on the representations and evidence of metal caster organizations, I address how different types of sources (poetic, visual, and material) help us to problematize historical perceptions of these skilled commoners while providing insights into the lived experiences of some of premodern Japan’s least visible figures.
Paula R. Curtis (Links to an external site.) is a historian of medieval Japan. She is presently a Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer in History with the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies at University of California, Los Angeles. Her current book project focuses on metal caster organizations from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries and their relationships with elite institutions. She also works on the history of documentary forgery in premodern Japan. In addition, Dr. Curtis collaborates in several online projects, including the Digital Humanities Japan (Links to an external site.) initiative, online databases for digital resources (Links to an external site.), employment opportunities (Links to an external site.) related to East Asia, and the blog What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies (Links to an external site.). To register, click here