Mittwoch, 8. Dezember 2010, 18:30–20:00 Sebastian Dobson: „Prussians bearing Gifts: the Eulenburg Expedition to Japan and the Artifacts of Diplomacy.“

Photo Event Photo Event

Over the next few weeks, most of us will be giving serious thought to our choice of end-of-year gifts. Selecting Christmas presents and oseibo is never easy, but it is unlikely that any of us will find the process of gift shopping as politically charged as it was for the organizers of Western diplomatic missions to Japan in the middle of the nineteenth century. The presentation of official gifts to the
Tokugawa shogunate involved several challenges, not least finding items which would adequately represent the donor nation and at the same time impress – or even astonish – the recipient. An early, and almost unassailable, precedent was established in 1854 by Commodore Perry, whose presents to the bakufu on behalf of the United States government resembled a miniature international exhibition display showcasing American technological and military might. In comparison, those presented by other nations seeking to initiate relations with Japan in the 1850s, such as Britain and France, were more modest in scale.
A more considered challenge to the American lead in the gift-giving stakes came from Count Eulenburg, who arrived in Edo in September 1860 at the head of a Prussian diplomatic expedition. Until a Prussian-Japanese Treaty was signed in January 1861, Eulenburg spent his stay in Japan judiciously presenting gifts in furtherance of his diplomatic objectives and even in support of Prussian science. This lecture will examine this hitherto overlooked aspect of the Prussian East Asian Expedition, which not only provides an illustration of the role played by gift-giving in Japan’s early relations with the West but also challenges some of our popular prejudices about the image of Prussia.

Sebastian Dobson, independent scholar of the history of photography based in Antwerp, Belgium. His recent publications include Art and Artifice: Japanese Photographs of the Meiji Era (2004) and A well-Recorded War: The Russo-Japanese War in History and Imagery (2005), both published by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as well as the entry on Japan in the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography (2007). In 2008 he was awarded the annual prize for research excellence by the Nihon Shashin Geijutsu Gakkai(Japan Society for Arts and History of Photography). In collaboration with Sven Saaler he is currently completing a book on the artistic legacy of the Prussian Expedition to Japan during 1860-61.