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Postgraduate Admissions

After finishing my undergraduate studies, I wanted to deepen my understanding of the field that I had begun to focus on for my dissertation: gesaku, popular vernacular literature of the Tokugawa period. I felt I had only begun to scrape the surface of this exciting area of research, and so the one-year MPhil seemed like an ideal opportunity to further my education and training. As I was trying to make the choice between further postgraduate study and leaving the world of academia, a course that would allow me to produce a piece of extended academic writing over the course of a year seemed like an appropriate introduction to the world of a PhD student.

Throughout the year, I met with my advisor on a weekly basis, who provided me with the tools, support and feedback necessary to take the project from the earliest stages of proposals to a fully-fledged dissertation based on extensive examination and analysis of primary texts. Focussing on a cross-section of witty, illustrated texts from the genre kibyōshi (literally “yellow-covers”) by Santō Kyōden (1761-1816), the dissertation considered how the selection of texts and translational methodologies can affect our understanding of genres. I argued that the selection and exclusion of texts in extant translations represent critical choices, and that translational approaches used can propagate certain views of how texts in this genre function. Taking the stance that translation can be used as a critical, epistemological tool, I challenged the prevailing view that the kibyōshi, as represented by Kyōden’s works, was a genre that declined from heights of wit and satire into simple didacticism. The dissertation suggested that the emphasis should instead be upon the traditions of rewriting, reinvention and adaptability that characterise kibyōshi.

At the end of the year, the MPhil course culminated in a viva with two eminent scholars in premodern Japanese literary studies. This was a remarkably valuable experience in which I was offered extremely useful critical feedback, and was also given the opportunity to have my work examined and challenged in the rigorous manner typical of both PhD vivas and the review process for journal and conference applications.

Beyond my primary studies for the MPhil dissertation, my advisor also organised regular reading groups and workshops on early modern handwritten and woodblock-printed texts which were both fascinating and useful for developing my bibliographic and palaeographic skills. Moreover, I was also given a great deal of support and encouragement in taking the first steps in an academic career through introductions to potential PhD advisors, and invaluable guidance on producing convincing PhD applications. By the time I left Cambridge not only did I have a place in the ideal PhD program for my research for which I felt thoroughly prepared, but I had also enjoyed a rewarding, challenging, and fulfilling year’s work. 

Oliver White (August 2016)

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Key Information


11 months full-time

Master of Philosophy

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

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Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Michaelmas 2021

Applications open
Sept. 1, 2020
Application deadline
June 2, 2021
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2021

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Graduate Funding Competition
Dec. 3, 2020
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 14, 2020

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