This course expands the definition of the “book” to include scrolls and albums, focusing on the reading experience of a variety of formats in Japan. You will begin by examining rare and beautifully preserved manuscripts in the Harvard Art Museums in an introduction exploring the material properties of Japanese books and scrolls, binding techniques, and important terminology. An examination of the illustrated scroll comes next, through a unit on the short story and visual storytelling in premodern Japan. The course concludes with The Tale of Genji , an overview of how this celebrated epic from the eleventh century was read and illustrated in every conceivable format, from scroll, to album, to printed book, into the modern era.
Drawing on the rich collections of Harvard’s libraries and museums, this course is part of a larger series on the history of books, where learners explore the book not merely as a container of content, but as significant physical objects that have shaped the way we understand the world around us.