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Global History of Science Seminar (GHOSS)

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REBEKAH E. CLEMENTS (ICREA Research Professor. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

“The Imjin War in Regional and Global History: New Perspectives ” 



In this paper, I will discuss my ERC project, “The Aftermath of the East Asian War of 1592-1598,” in order to tease out some of the conceptual and methodological issues around writing Japan’s place in global history. I will present on three challenges facing the project: the politics of names, the question of “East Asia”, and global versus national perspectives in the writing of history. “Aftermath” is a five year, European Research Council funded project (758347, 2018-2023) that seeks to understand the demographic, environmental, and technological legacy of the East Asian War of 1592-1598, which is also known as the Imjin War. This massive conflict is not part of standard narratives about the early modern world –indeed, is not widely known beyond East Asian history circles –but it was the largest conflict of the world of the sixteenth century, involved the largest successful overseas landings in world history by that date, and was unparalleled in East Asia until the twentieth century. Over a six year period, the war entangled more than 500,000 combatants from Japan, China, and Korea, as well as Southeast Asian and European subjects, and civilian casualties were high. The war caused momentous demographic upheaval in the region and widespread destruction in Korea, but also had long-lasting cultural impact as a result of the forced removal to Japan of Korean technology and skilled labourers. The memory of the conflict reverberates throughout East Asia today, kept alive in Korea by museums and the school curriculum, and thanks to strategic concerns that are still relevant for the modern nations of Japan, China, and Korea and which were highlighted time and again by nineteenth and twentieth century Japanese expansion, World War Two, and the Korean War of the 1950s.


Rebekah Clements is an ICREA at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She completed degrees in law and Asian studies at the Australian National University where she was awarded the University Medal, before obtaining an MA in classical Japanese literature from Waseda University in 2008. She completed her PhD in East Asian History from the University of Cambridge (Trinity College) in 2011. Following her PhD she was a research associate at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge and held a junior research fellowship from Queens' College from 2012-2015 where she completed her first monograph, A Cultural History of Translation in Early Modern Japan (Cambridge University Press, 2015). From 2015-2018 she held a lectureship and then an associate professorship at Durham University. She joined ICREA in October 2018.

Rebekah is a cultural historian of Japan, specializing in the Tokugawa period (1600-1868). Her research focuses on language, society, and the characteristics of Japanese early modernity, as understood in the broader context of East Asia. She is currently working on Korean exiles present in Japan following the Imjin War of 1592-1598. This work takes place within her project funded by the European Research Council, "The Aftermath of the East Asian War of 1592-1598" (2018-2023). The Aftermath project is a large scale attempt to understand the legacy of the Imjin War, also known as the East Asian War of 1592-1598 and Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Invasions of Korea. It holds a monthly webinar series, and hosts a website about the project, including the new “Database of Research on the Imjin War”.