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MIT Statement by Chancellor Clay

Visualizing Cultures is an interdisciplinary research project, history course and educational outreach program that uses historical images and texts of different cultures in order to learn from them. We deeply regret that a section of this website has caused distress and pain to members of the Chinese community.

Visualizing Cultures is an important and pioneering undertaking by two esteemed members of our faculty, Professor John Dower of the History faculty and Professor Shigeru Miyagawa of the departments of Linguistics and of Foreign Languages and Literatures. Professors Dower and Miyagawa have MIT’s strongest support.

One section of the website — Throwing Off Asia — authored by Professor Dower, refers to the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 and displays images of Japanese wood-block prints that were used as wartime propaganda. Some of these images show the atrocities of war and are examples of how societies use visual imagery as propaganda to further their political agendas. The use of these historical images is not an endorsement of the events depicted.

Many readers, however, have indicated that the purpose of the project is not sufficiently clear to counteract the negative messages within the historical images portrayed on the site. Professors Dower and Miyagawa have been meeting with members of the MIT Chinese community to discuss their concerns, and have temporarily taken down the website while these concerns can be addressed.

The response from some outside the community, on the other hand, has been inappropriate and antithetical to the mission and spirit of MIT and of any university. This is not only unfair to our colleagues, but contrary to the very essence of the university as a place for the free exploration of ideas and the embrace of intellectual and cultural diversity. In the spirit of collaboration, MIT encourages an open and constructive dialogue.

We need to preserve the ability to confront the difficult parts of human history if we are to learn from them.

Phillip L. Clay, Chancellor