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Interactions in History

The study of history often focus on understanding one situation within a single society at a time. Instead, why not explore situations in two or three different cultures; consider how they influence each other; and compare the resulting similarities and differences?

The exercise below outlines an example of how to perform this kind of analysis in a history course.


Start by considering different places in the modern world, and then think about one way that they have interacted. In this exercise, the locations represent three great centers of modern popular music: (Click the links below for a primer on each genre. You will also find examples of music from these genres by searching YouTube for “J-pop,” “K-pop,” or “C-pop.”)

  • Tokyo (case A), home of J-pop
  • Seoul (case B), home of K-pop
  • Shanghai (case C), home of C-pop

A short glossary of terms

As you read through the steps below, pay attention to these terms:

  • Situations refer to certain characteristics that are specific to a particular place and time. In the case of this example, the situation is pop music.
  • An influence is something that moves from one place to another at a known time. There are both one-way influences and two-way influences.
  • Interactions are reciprocal actions, resulting from two or more influences that link situations.
  • Internal complications are influences within a single place.
  • External complications are influences that come from outside of a particular place.
  • An outcome occurs when an influence changes a situation. Outcomes can be parallel or divergent.
  • Change over time is important. That is, consider the order in which influences and outcomes take place.

Step 1: Influences

Begin with a comparison of Tokyo’s J-pop (case A) and Seoul’s K-pop (case B) and briefly describe the situation for each city. For example, think about the characteristics of J-pop and K-pop. What makes their sounds unique? What do the lyrics focus on? Who listens to these genres?

Next, describe an influence that moves from case A to B. For instance, postwar Japan developed the world’s second-largest music industry, but it was focused on the home market. Later, J-pop leaders sought to export their music to South Korea. This export of pop music from Tokyo to Seoul is the influence.

Figure 1 shows a one-way interaction that starts with case A and affects case B.

Now, repeat this process, but in the opposite direction, considering a later time: Describe an influence of Seoul’s K-pop on Tokyo’s J-pop. This influence may even be a result of that original A-to-B influence.

Figure 2 show a two-way interaction between cases A and B.

Step 2: Outcomes

What might be an outcome of the arrival of J-pop in Seoul? For one, Japan had ruled Korea from 1910 to 1945, leaving bad feelings in Korea. But those feelings mellowed with time, and Koreans eventually embraced J-pop. Looking at South Korea, increased democracy may have helped K-pop establish there. But the arrival of Japan’s pop music, J-pop, in Seoul may have then provided further inspiration for K-pop’s expansion and even its export.

These influences and outcomes show that Tokyo and Seoul became more parallel as the pop music scene grew in each city. But we also see how they diverged, because K-pop groups became increasingly different from J-pop groups.

Step 3: Internal Complications

Let’s add another dimension: It’s important to remember that case A’s influence on case B may cause internal complications for case A. There are two main types of these internal complications: autonomous changes, which arise out of each location’s local history, and sending effects, which are changes in each location that result from influences.

Here’s how these internal complications play out in our example: the autonomous search for expanding music markets encouraged further exports from Japan to Korea. Meanwhile, J-pop stars toured in South Korea and elsewhere, making J-pop an international form of entertainment—a sending effect.

Figure 3 shows how case A influences case B, and how that may lead to internal complications within case A.

When discussing a two-way influence, both cases A and B will experience internal complications. In other words, Seoul also experienced the autonomous change of an expanding democracy on musical culture, as well as a sending effect. (K-pop musicians sought to enter the Japanese market in addition to their home market.)

Case A and case B influence one another. As a result, both cases A and B experience internal complications.

Step 4: External Complications

Cases A and B are not completely isolated, so one must consider the influence that a third situation—case C, Shanghai’s C-pop—might have on either A or B, or on both A and B. As you might imagine, once C-pop music became more popular in Tokyo and Seoul, it influenced both J-pop and K-pop.

A third situation, case C, can influence either cases A or B.


A third situation, case C, can influence both cases A and B.


Step 5: Interplay

This final illustration showcases all three levels of local analysis presented above: the original one-way and two-way influences of J-pop and K-pop on each other; the resulting internal complications within Tokyo and Seoul, and their respective homegrown music genres; and the external complications that Shanghai and C-pop’s influence had on J-pop and K-pop.

Figure 7 shows all three levels of a local analysis: one-way and two-way influences; internal complications; and external complications.

We have detailed the influences and outcomes for cases A and B and noted the external influence from case C in Shanghai. But, keep in mind that—for the purpose of this local exercise—we have not discussed any of the outcomes for Shanghai and C-pop.

Summary and Next Steps

This exercise demonstrates the basic principles in exploring interactions in history or culture. It distinguishes the influences that move from one place or situation to another from the consequences of those influences. It also keeps track of autonomous change within each situation.

A successful analysis of this type depends on both logic and on the specifics of the topic. For instance, the linked articles above that introduce J-pop, K-pop, and C-pop are very helpful in describing the specifics of each musical genre. However, these articles have little to say about the interactions among them. That’s why it’s essential for students of history to give attention to the logic of interactions, as demonstrated by the steps above.

One could expand this exercise into a global analysis (which requires a detailed study of at least four situations) by assessing the interactions among additional countries. An obvious addition is the U.S., the world’s biggest music market, where K-pop—most notably the global sensation BTS—is popular and influential. It also makes sense to include Canada, with its large Asian population and international music market. Importantly, a global analysis differs from a local analysis in that it is significantly more complex—that is, in a global analysis, it’s impossible to consider all factors at once.

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