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I am interested in perception as a social force, and how perceptions can affect historical outcomes. Coupled with overseas experiences in the Middle East and East Asia, I started to appreciate just how powerful images of “Others” and perceptions of difference could be in unifying or dividing people. As a graduate student doing a lot of background reading about the development of Arab nationalism, I found repeatedly the statement that “the Russo-Japanese war had a tremendous influence upon non-Western peoples in the world,” with no further explanation. Why was this so influential, and how? What did a society in one part of the “non-Western” world think of those in another? Did their views have any concrete historical effects? Pursuing these questions, I explored the perceptions that various peoples in the Ottoman Empire had from the late 19th – early 20th centuries about the emerging nation of Meiji Japan.
This project came to entail the deconstruction of a discourse on “non-Western” modernity produced by Ottoman individuals from a wide variety of ethnic, religious, and class orientations, and how modern Japan represented a way out of a dilemma faced by non-Western nations in confronting the hegemony of Western civilization and progress in this particular time period. I read widely to gain a general understanding of attitudes toward Japan produced in Arabic and Turkish newspapers, Ottoman government documents, and other sources. This led to a monograph I am currently finishing entitled Ottoman Imagination and the Rising Sun: the Middle East, Japan, and non-Western Modernity at the Turn of the 20th Century, as well as future research on Arab perceptions of the Armenian community during the genocide and afterwards.
I am also fascinated by the human relationship to and constantly changing perception of the wolf through time in various societies, as an unrelated project.