On July 8, 1853, residents of Uraga on the outskirts of Edo, the sprawling capital of feudal Japan, beheld an astonishing sight. Four foreign warships had entered their harbor under a cloud of black smoke, not a sail visible among them. They were, startled observers quickly learned, two coal-burning steamships towing two sloops under the command of a dour and imperious American. Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry had arrived to force the long-secluded country to open its doors to the outside world.
This initial encounter between the United States and Japan was eye-opening for all concerned, involving a dramatic confrontation between peoples of different racial, cultural, and historical backgrounds. We can literally see this encounter of "East" and "West" unfold through the splendid, yet little known, artwork produced by each side at the time.
"Black Ships and Samurai" is, of course, not merely about the United States and Japan at a time long ago. It is offered as a model for beginning to understand how we visualize both ourselves and others. After being introduced to the Perry unit, students in MITs "Visualizing Cultures" course develop individual or collaborative projects on subjects of their own choosing.
As yet, no student-created projects are available on the OCW web site.