In order to begin the program, which commence next fall, Wigen's lecture, "Seeing Like a Pilgrim: The Alpine Imagery of Early Modern Japanese Maps," discussed maps during the Tokugawa period which spanned from 1600-1868.
Wigen especially focused on the importance of mountains on Japanese maps and how changes in this role showed changes in Japanese culture through how people viewed mountains and Japan as a whole. In order to illustrate her point, Wigen displayed images of atlases, which covered all of the provinces of Japan, and itinerary maps, which focused more on the road networks.
She showed how the mountains on these maps rose in importance during the Tokagawa period and became increasingly prominent on each consecutive map. Wigen explained that this was due to the rising importance of mountains in the economy, the escalating sense that Mount Fuji was the iconic symbol of Japan, the increasing access to maps and the technological development of the telescope, which allowed for more detailed drawings.
Wigen became interested in Japan at the age of 14 when she and her family lived there for six months. Her special interest in maps evolved from her graduate work in geography, where in order to understand geographical patterns she would plot them out on maps and even make her own maps.
The draw of Japanese maps primarily came from their challenging nature. "I especially like Japanese maps because you have to spend time with them before you understand them," she said.
Meggie Ranheim '11 was impressed by the interdisciplinary nature of the maps Wigen presented. "I had no idea there was so much more to something as specific as the evolution of Japanese maps. It has so much to do with so many other things like theology and psychology," she said.
This interdisciplinary aspect is one of the main concepts of the new Asian conversations program which is set to begin in fall 2008.
Asian conversations program director Katherine Tegtmeyer-Pak said the program would have value for both Asian studies majors and non majors because classes would span various disciplines. "Throughout the series, students will see how the questions and answers addressed come from all different fields," she said.
The new program will consist of three classes centered around the theme of "journeys," and will include sophomore students and possibly some juniors if there is space. Over interim of their sophomore year students will travel to either Japan or China.
One of the program's cornerstones is the language base in either Chinese or Japanese that students must have upon entrance to the sequence of Asian conversations classes. Tegtmeyer Pak said this aspect was crucial in understanding other cultures. "It opens your eyes to the possibility of profoundly different world views," she said.
Wigen's lecture is the first of two lectures relating to the new Asian conversations program. The second, in April, will feature University of Chicago history professor Prasenjit Duara, who will discuss the decolonization in China and India.