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Michael  Gibbs


Modern Japan; East Asia; labor, social, and cultural history


Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1990>


My teaching interests are broad, ranging from modern Japanese history to broader Asian and World history. I focus on cultural and social history, with special emphases on filmmaking in Japan and changes among the lower classes in modern societies. I consider films to be particularly valuable documents of social and cultural change, although I appreciate how complicated these "documents" are. I believe in challenging students' (and sometimes colleagues') assumptions about how the modern world works, starting with the question of Japan's place within it. I also think that just as the contemporary world cannot be understood without taking seriously the contributions peoples like the Japanese, so modernity cannot be grasped in isolation, but needs to be seen in the broader chronological context of earlier periods.

My research is focused on the social and cultural history of Japan after World War II. My published monograph, Struggle and Purpose in Postwar Japanese Unionism, belongs to the field of labor history, with an emphasis on its cultural aspects. My subsequent research has concentrated on a cultural movement in postwar Japan with connections to the labor movement and to the broader political left. This movement was the work of film societies, organized by unionists or communists to promote the production of progressive films. My research focuses on both the activities of these film societies and on the films they supported - both independently produced leftist films and major studio productions that contained progressive elements.