World CivilizationsResearch

Lady of the Court

Reading a diary can be fascinating, as if you are peeking through a window on a life which began and ended centuries before your own. There are several problems with diaries or journals as historical sources, however. You are only getting the viewpoint of one person, which can be rather limiting. You can't write a paper about what it was like to live in a Japanese court based on one girl's observations. How do you know her observations are accurate? Representative of many court experiences? Ten diaries with similar observations would be better. Several different kinds of sources which corroborate each other would be ideal. Do the problems negate the value of this one fascinating source? Not at all. You, the author, must know how to use the evidence you have. You must acknowledge the limitations of your sources, and then present the information you do have clearly and effectively.

To use this particular diary as historical evidence for some position, you must plan and focus. To help you learn to do this, we've assigned a particular theme, role of women. As you read and take notes, watch for evidence which indicates her place in society. What do you learn about aristocratic life in Japan from her diary? About the position of women in general in Japanese society? Does it surprise you that she seems to have a measure of freedom in deciding where she will live as she gets older? Why? How about her literacy? Remember that when this diary was written, Tale of the Genji had barely been completed, and yet, this young girl is both aware of its existence and craving a copy. Contrast her position with the position of her nurse, left early on in the story to die.

Another important element is background information. This young lady did not exist in a vacuum, but in a particular place and time. What do you know about her place and time? If the Heian period in Japan is a bit foggy for you, take some time to review the background information. Find out what her world was like, at least in a general sense.

After you've read and thought about this diary, review your notes. What statements can you make about her particular experience in her home? The court? In Japan? Who seems to determine her social fate? Her religious fate? How universal are her experiences, in your opinion? You must remember that you are writing a paper about ONE woman's life, not about 11th century life in general. You can talk about what you learned of aristocratic women, or about Japanese history, but include these observations in your conclusion and tie them directly to your evidence from the diary. Ready? Go to the Link Collection.

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World Civilizations

RESEARCH: Ralph'sWorld Civilizations
Page created by Thomas Pearcy, Ph.D and Mary Dickson.
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Last revised July 12, 1997
Copyright (c) 1997. W. W. Norton Publishing. All Rights Reserved
Copyright (c) 1997. W. W. Norton Publishing. All Rights Reserved