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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Kenneth B Pyle
HSTAS 490
Seattle Campus

Topics in Asian History

Class description

NAGASAKI AND HIROSHIMA

This course does NOT fulfill the senior seminar requirement for history majors. Registration is by entry code available from Instructor Pyle: kbp@u.washington.edu. Admission is competitive, based on performance in previous relevant coursework. Class size will be limited to 12 students.

A poll of journalists at the turn of the millennium found that their choice of the most important story of the twentieth century was the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This course will consider the many aspects of this event, including: the origins of the Manhattan Project, American planning for the invasion of Japan and the use of the bomb, the Potsdam Declaration, Soviet entry into the war, Japan's decision to surrender, the continuing controversy among Japanese and American historians in interpreting motivations and responsibility, the Japanese sense of victimhood, and the consequent reflections on war and human nature in Japanese and American literature. The course will meet once a week for two hours for discussion of extensive reading on all of these subjects. Videos will also be used. The course will have no examinations but each student will choose a topic of particular interest on which to do extensive research, to make an oral presentation and to write a 15-20 page paper.

Student learning goals

This course offers the student an opportunity to see how historians and other social scientists dealing with the same sequence of events have come to a wide range of interpretations of its meaning. The course will consider the reasons for this wide range, such as difference in motivation, generational and national perspective, bias, academic discipline, levels of analysis, and appearance of new materials of historical evidence. By its nature, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki decisions have been subject to the use of counterfactuals, i.e. questions of “What if…?” The course will consider the value of these questions and of assertion of alternative courses of action and “missed opportunities” to avoid the way in which the war terminated.

Ultimately, the course will force the student to grapple with achieving her/his own interpretation. It is not a course for the faint hearted. Rather, it is for the student who wants a challenge in order to improve her/his thinking, debating, research and writing ability.

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Previous coursework in modern Japanese or American history.

Class assignments and grading

Class assignments and grading will be outlined in the course syllabus.

Class discussion and the research paper.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Kenneth B Pyle
Date: 01/30/2011