Resource Review – Dissertation Reviews

DRIn a previous post, I asked whether graduate students write Ph.D dissertations/master’s theses on anime and manga – the answer being very much yes. In the same post, I also discussed several ways of locating and accessing these kinds of dissertations, including using Google Scholar, institutional repositories, and the subscription-only ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global database, and listed a number of recent dissertations/theses authored by graduate students in colleges/universities both in the U.S. and in other English-speaking countries.

But, just as with published scholarship, simply being able to locate and access dissertations on a particular topic does not necessarily serve to fill an end user’s information needs. Books receive reviews, whether in academic journals, in popular magazines, or on blogs. Until recently, I was not aware of any similar resource for reviews of dissertations.

As it turns out, the appropriately titled Dissertation Reviews website serves exactly this purpose – of providing “overviews of recently defended, unpublished doctoral dissertations in a wide variety of disciplines across the Humanities and Social Sciences”. Its main goal is to highlight, rather than critique/criticize, so in a way, if a title is selected to be reviewed, that in of itself can be treated as an endorsement and a positive appraisal of its value and contribution to scholarship.

Each of the actual dissertations included in Dissertation Reviews is assigned to one more of over 30 different “series” (categories/tags) – some of these include “Asian Art History“, “Gender and Sexuality“, and “Japan Studies“. Purely for navigational purposes, the reviews are also organized by region (North, Central & West Asia; East, South & Southeast Asia; Europe; The Americas) and, by subject under a general “Culture, Society & Politics” heading. These are not exclusive, and the review of a particular dissertation can belong to two or more different series, and appear on the dedicated pages of each of them. For example, a user can locate the review of Transcultural Fandom: Japanese Fans of HK Stars by browsing either of the China, Japan, Media Studies or Performance series, as well as the Culture, Society & Politics menu (which includes Media Studies and Performance) or the East, South and Southeast Asian one (which covers China and Japan). Each individual review is a fairly in-depth piece (up to 1,000 words), following a particular style guide. Each also lists up to 5 of the major primary sources the dissertation’s author relied on.

So, the question stands – does Dissertation Reviews offer any coverage of dissertations specifically on anime/manga? The site does include a simple search function, but given that these terms are fairly specific to begin with, it may be enough. And, as it turns out, 3 of its reviews do specifically cover dissertations with a significant focus on anime/manga:

“Gaijin” others in Japanese manga, 1930s-1950s [review of Chua, Karl Ian Uy Cheng, Gaijin: Cultural representations through manga, 1930s-1950s].

“As a comprehensive study of the changing representations of the Other in Shōnen kurabu, Chua’s dissertation makes a solid contribution to the field of Japan Studies by disclosing the pervasive stereotypes and logic of racism implanted in young readers throughout the middle third of the twentieth century via the medium of manga.”

Japanese visions of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” [review of Bird, Lawrence, Saving Metropolis: Body and city in the Metropolis tales].

Bird is also the author of States of emergency: Urban space and the robotic body in the Metropolis talesMechademia: An Annual Forum for Anime, Manga, and the Fan Arts, 3, 127-148 (2008) and Dialectical imaginaries: Forms of life, forms of fascism in the Metropolis of film, manga and anime, Critical Planning: UCLA Urban Planning Journal, 19, 38-55 (2012) (available in open access).

Review of Hemmann, Kathryn, The female gaze in contemporary Japanese literature.

“The Female Gaze in Contemporary Japanese Literature lays a crucial foundation for educators who are interested in teaching courses on anime, manga, and popular culture as well as gender and sexuality studies in Japan, for students who are willing to pursue such themes as objects of their academic inquiry, and above all, for otaku and members of online fandom all over the world.”

The dissertation is available in open access from the University of Pennsylvania’s ScholarlyCommons institutional repository. The author is currently Assistant Professor, Modern and Classical Languages, George Mason University. Her recent publications on topics related to anime/manga include Short skirts and superpowers: The evolution of the Beautiful Fighting Girl, U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, 47, 45-72 Queering the media mix: The female gaze in Japanese fan comics, Transformative Works and Cultures, 20 (2015).

As per a December 30, 2015 announcement, later this year, Dissertation Reviews will change its format/focus from publishing individual reviews of specific single dissertations to an emphasis on promoting noteworthy dissertations in various fields in general in an essay format. While I very highly doubt that anime/manga studies as a field or area of interest supports enough new research to justify something like a general overview, I am reasonably confident that even in its new format, DR will continue highlighting dissertations on anime/manga, likely within essays on Asian/East Asian/Japanese studies, media studies, or even fandom studies. In any case, I look forward to seeing exactly how it evolves, and will definitely keep it in mind from now on as a valuable resource for current awareness about innovative scholarship on anime and manga.

[Ed. note: One question that is definitely worth asking is why I was not aware of this resource until recently. The answer, I think, is essentially two-fold. Compared to other academic databases, Dissertation Resources, which launched in 2010, is actually relatively young; when I was actually learning about reference sources and services, social science librarianship, Russian/Eastern European librarianship, and other related topics, it simply did not exist yet to begin with. In addition, because its focus is on dissertations in the humanities and social sciences, it does not cover my “home” discipline of library/information science, and so, I have also not had any real reasons to familiarize myself with it.]

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