Prof. dr. Oleg Benesch, 'Castles, Knights, and Samurai: Global Medievalism and Modern Japan'

02-05-2022 from 15:00 to 17:00
Ghent University (BE), Tweekerken building , Aud. 0.3 André Vlerick
Stefan Meysman

BOCULT, HPIMS and CCC joint lecture with Prof. Oleg Benesch (University of York)

The Centre for Research on Body Cultures in Motion (BOCULT), The Henri Pirenne Institute and the Research Group Communities Comparisons Connections (CCC) invite you to a lecture with Prof. Dr. Oleg Benesch (University of York) on the topic of

Castles, Knights, and Samurai: Global Medievalism and Modern Japan


In the nineteenth century, Europeans rediscovered and reinterpreted the Middle Ages on a grand scale. Medievalist symbols and ideals were widely invoked as a response to industrialization and the Enlightenment, and fed prominently into art, architecture, literature, and culture, from the knightly tales of Sir Walter Scott to the medievalist operas of Richard Wagner to the proliferation of Gothic architecture. Medievalism was not limited to Europe, however, but had a powerful influence elsewhere, as many colonial officials, soldiers, and settlers saw themselves as modern heirs of medieval knighthood, spreading Christianity and “civilization” as part of their perceived imperial mission. Medievalist ideals were eagerly taken up in European settler societies, including the United States, Australia, and Latin America.
In this talk, I focus on the development of medievalism in Japan, which retained its independence but was forced to negotiate with Western imperialism during what I call the “global medievalist moment” from the 1840s to the 1960s. This period saw both the global peak of imperialism and colonialism, as well as the diffusion of the concept of the modern nation-state. These dynamics were closely tied to the great growth of medievalism around the world, as societies looked to discover and mine their own medieval pasts for national symbols and legitimacy. In this context, I examine the reinvention of the samurai warriors and other symbols of medieval Japan in the service of nationalism. I further explore how Japanese medievalism came to be recognized in the West, especially after Japan’s defeat of Russia in 1905, and how the confluence of Japanese and European medievalism influenced views of the Middle Ages in China.


Professor Oleg Benesch is reader in Modern history at the University of York specializing in the history of Japan and China in a global context. His publications and teaching interests cover a variety of fields, including Japanese intellectual, religious, and social history, Chinese intellectual history, as well as the transnational history of modern East Asia. He regularly presents his research findings at academic conferences and invited lectures throughout East Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia. His main publications include
- Japan's Castles: Citadels of Modernity in War and Peace (Cambridge University Press 2019)
- Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushidō in Modern Japan (Oxford University Press 2014)