The Database of Research on the Imjin War: Some Initial Thoughts

Long term readers will likely be aware of my interest in both bibliographies and databases. I have long been involved in the Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographic History project and have written some pieces for Digital Orientalist about some of the databases that I found useful when writing for that series which can be read here and here. As the Digital Orientalist’s Editor for Islamic Studies, Alex Mallett, recently noted, the context of the COVID-19 pandemic provides us with ample time to explore databases that we may have previously missed. The context of pandemic also necessitates the sharing of resources that we find (or already know about) so that we may aid our fellow academics, librarians and our students who may be struggling to find materials pertinent to their work and studies online. Some time after reading Mallett’s piece, I received a notification from H-Asia, a group on H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online), alerting me to the existence of a new bibliographic database, the Database of Research on the Imjin War. Today, within the spirit of discovering and sharing resources in the time of pandemic, I’ll provide a brief overview of the database and my experiences using it.

The Database’s “About” Page.

The Database of Research on the Imjin War was launched on the 23rd of April, 2020. It is an output of the Aftermath of the East Asian War of 1592-1598 project which is funded by the European Research Council and involves a team of researchers under the leadership of Prof. Rebekah Clements. According to its website, the database is a bibliography of modern books, articles, and dissertations relating to the Imjin War (also known as: E. the Japanese invasions of Korea; C. Wànlì cháoxiǎn zhī yì 萬曆朝鮮之役; C. Rénchén wèiguó zhànzhēng 壬辰衛國戰爭; J. Bunroku・Keichō no yaku 文禄・慶長の役 etc.). It aims to make bibliographical information on these secondary sources available in a single place. Users hoping to find primary sources may, therefore, be disappointed, but as a source for locating secondary sources the database offers great potential especially since it includes sources written in multiple languages covering a breadth of topics related to the war and its effects. At present the database (which is a work in progress) is of modest size containing entries on 361 secondary sources from nine different languages and published between 1878 and 2020. Users can expect to see it expand in the future and are encouraged to contact members of the research team with suggested entries.

The basic search function.

The database is well-designed and extremely easy to navigate. It offers its users both a basic search and advanced search function. The primary means of searching the database is a keyword search, but advanced options allow the user to specify title, author, date, subject, and language. At its current size these options are more than sufficient, but I imagine that if the database becomes much larger that extra options such as searching by ISBN, ISSN, or publisher may also be helpful. Nevertheless, whilst the bibliography does contain publisher information, at present it does not contain details of ISBN or ISSN, and therefore adding additional search options such as these may not be feasible.

Search results.

Following a search, results are displayed as a list. Each entry details a source’s title, author, publisher, year of publication, language, number of pages, place of publication, and subject. Entries on Chinese, Japanese, and Korean texts include titles and author names romanized according to the Pinyin, Hepburn, and McCune-Reischauer systems of romanization respectively. Each entry can be opened alone in a new tab by clicking on the “Open” button in the bottom left corner. A user can also download a RIS file of the entry by clicking the “Download RIS file” button and save the metadata for use in the citation software of their choosing. This is a highly useful feature of the database, but also poses some limitations. Since the database was created using Zotero, in the case of Chinese, Japanese and Korean sources, the metadata for the romanized name of the author and romanized title cannot be saved by the user. Similarly, whilst those who export the RIS file for use in Zotero will be able to access these details, they will find them stored in various unrelated fields. For instance, the author’s romanized name is found in the “Call Number” field. Luckily these limitations and details on where to find the author’s romanized name and the romanized title of each entry in Zotero are listed in the database’s user guide. Furthermore, it must be noted that these limitations are not issues with the database itself, but issues resulting from the use of Zotero to create the database. Similar issues which become apparent when using Zotero as a bibliographical tool with non-Western languages were addressed in a review of this piece of software by Jasper Bernhofer in the Digital Orientalist earlier this year.

Konishi Yukinaga (Source: Wikipedia).

At present the primary limitation of the database is its size. Passages on the Imjin War (1592-1598) have appeared in sources that I have used for my own research, which as most readers will know focuses on the history of Christianity in Japan. Indeed, the Imjin War was a rather important event in the history of the Jesuit mission to Japan in the late 16th Century and the history of Christianity in Japan more generally. It cemented the positions of prominent daimyō 大名 converts, and provided missionaries with a respite from persecution and a space in which they could seek to prove their value to Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豐臣秀吉 and his allies. As such, the first thing that I attempted to search for in the database were entries on Christianity, but I was disappointed to find that it only contained 10 entries relating to the subject. Prominent explorations such as Yanagida Toshio’s paper Bunroku Keicho no Eki to Kirishitan senkyoshi 文禄・慶長の役とキリシタン宣教師 (1982) are missing (the paper has been added to the database following the publication of this exploration), and although a limited number of biographies on Kirishitan daimyō キリシタン大名 who fought in the war are included in the database (there are two on Konishi Yukinaga 小西行長 for example) many are not included. All that said, it must be reiterated that the database is an ongoing project and that it will continue to grow in the future.

Despite its currently modest size, the Database of Research on the Imjin War shows much promise. It is easy to use, functional, stylish, and offers useful features such as the ability to download bibliographical data. Although it is still a long way off, like its creators I hope that it becomes the primary bibliographical tool for searching for secondary sources pertaining to the Imjin War. Bibliographies and bibliographic databases are essential tools for researchers, students and librarians, and are becoming increasingly important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It must also be remembered that bibliographies present an arduous task for those who compile them. The compilers of bibliographies must not only “discover” all the sources to be included in their bibliography, but also engage in the time consuming task of inputing the data pertaining to these sources into their database. The Database of Research on the Imjin War‘s information page encourages users who have suggestions for entries in the bibliography to contact the creators, which I am sure would be a great help to the team. In any case, I hope readers will try using the database and join me in watching it prosper and grow.

3 thoughts on “The Database of Research on the Imjin War: Some Initial Thoughts

  1. Dear James (if I may),

    Many thanks for your great review of our database! We have added the 文禄・慶長の役とキリシタン宣教師 to it, and of course in the future we hope to add more scholarly works on this topic. Thank you for pointing this source out!

    Kind regards,


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