Armstrong Lecture 2012

Daniel Botsman

May 3, 2012

Written by: Dr. Rustin Gates

Professor Daniel Botsman of Yale University delivered the annual Armstrong Lecture on April 10, 2012. In a talk titled, “Freedom without slavery? The Case of the Maria Luz and the Meaning of Emancipation in Nineteenth Century Japan,” Botsman examined Japan’s stance on the international slave trade during a court case in which Japanese officials freed Chinese “coolies” who had been interned on a Portuguese ship bound for Peru in 1872. Forced to deal with this issue when the ship sailed into the port of Yokohama and a “coolie” jumped over board to obtain his freedom, the new Meiji government, commonly thought to be a bastion of conservatism, espoused liberal ideas in its eventual condemnation of the practice of slavery. This episode forced the Japanese to consider the plight of prostitutes and outcasts within its own borders, ultimately issuing “Emancipation Edicts” for both groups. Japan, then, played an important part in the worldwide “Emancipation moment” in the mid-nineteenth century in which countries outlawed or abandoned the buying and selling of people for labor.

Held in the Wyckoff room in the library for a standing room only audience, Botsman’s talk generated a strong response from the students and professors in attendance. In particular, History Department Chair, Stacey Robertson, commented that the talk fit in nicely with the department’s year-long program on human trafficking by showing the deep historical roots and global nature of the problem. Several students later commented that Botsman’s talk pushed them to expand their view of slavery beyond Africa and the Atlantic slave trade to include the role of Asian “coolie” laborers in expansion of Western imperialism on the other side of the world.

During his visit to Bradley, Botsman also lectured in Professor Rustin Gates’ sections of his course on Modern Japanese History. Botsman described his recent experiences in Japan interviewing the surviving residents of small hamlets that had been the subject of American researchers in the 1950s. By providing the students with the before (1950s) and after (2010) pictures of the hamlets, Botsman showed the students the effects of Japanese postwar industrialization on rural life. He told the story of one village on a small island in Japan’s inland sea that, after the Japanese government in 1960s filled in the sea with concrete, is now a tiny hill in a massive industrial. The lecture and pictures elicited several student questions and provided an important segue for Gates’ lectures on postwar economic development and society. For their part, Bradley students and the university in general made a strong positive impression on Botsman who enjoyed his time visiting the Heart of Illinois.