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In recent decades it has become somewhat fashionable in Japan to recount one’s own personal history of the war and postwar years through a variety of public and private media. Recent scholarship on the phenomena examines how cultural and political elites have deployed personal history narratives as a means of constructing modes of local and national identity. This talk examines the role that historical narrative plays in the public relations agenda of corporate Japan by investigating the ramifications of the attention given to shaping public perception of the company’s place in history. Most member companies of Japan’s twentieth-century keiretsu (corporate conglomerates that included Mitsubishi, Mitsui, and Sumitomo) regularly published, before and after the war, official histories as a means of enhancing corporate prestige. Company history telling enterprises, from books to magazines, annual reports, documentary films and even museums, also provide the means to evade critical discussion of their past indiscretions and ameliorate the risk of legal action for past activities. As a result, company history narratives, like many tropes of national history, often obscure more than they illuminate about the corporate subject. The book manuscript from which this talk originates seeks to unpack the way in which corporate history narratives have in recent years become interwoven with philanthropic initiatives, so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, in part developed to rehabilitate corporate reputation and enhance public perception of the private enterprise. The institutional histories constructed by Japan’s oldest corporations since the start of the twenty-first century seem to emphasize the lingering ambiguities of postwar Japan’s relationship with its prewar and wartime past. Ironically, it also seems likely that corporate historical narrative also exposes the company to fiduciary risk by using the company’s social responsibility scheme as a forum for presenting marketing narrative as history.
Christopher Gerteis is a Lecturer in the History of Contemporary Japan with the Department of History in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
This talk is part of the APSI Speaker Series.
DATE:  October 24, 2012
LOCATION:  Breedlove Room, (Room 204), Perkins Library, Duke
TIME: 3:00 4:30pm

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