Department of History

Raja Adal

  • Assistant Professor


History of Japan
World history
Middle East History


Modern Japan
The Social History of Aesthetics in Japan
Media and Technology in Modern Asia
Asian and African Encounters with Empire
Japan & the West

Education & Training

  • PhD, Harvard University, 2009

Representative Publications

"Aesthetics and the End of the Mimetic Moment: The Introduction of Art Education in Japanese and Egyptian Schools," Comparative Studies in Society and History 58, no. 4 (October 2016): 1-22.

“Kanji bunkaen” [Cultural sphere of Chinese characters], “arufabetto” [Alphabet].  Entries in Gendai shakaigaku jiten [Encyclopedia of Contemporary Social Science].  Tokyo: Kōbundō, 2012.

“Japan’s Bifurcated Modernity: Writing and Calligraphy in Japanese Public Schools, 1872-1943.”  Theory, Culture and Society 26, no. 2-3 (2009): 233-247.

“Shakib Arslan’s Imagining of Europe: The Colonizer, the Inquisitor, the Islamic, the Virtuous, and the Friend.”  In Islam in Europe in the Interwar Period: Networks, Status, Challenges.  Edited by Nathalie Clayer and Eric Germain, 156-182.  New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

Research Interests

Aesthetics and the Re-Enchantment of the Modern World

Through a history of art education in primary schools, this book argues that historical actors operate not only within an ideological field populated with ideas but within an aesthetic field made of desires.  To chart this aesthetic field the book focuses on a modern institution, the government school, and on two of its curricular subjects, drawing and music education.  To understand the global policies and debates surrounding these two school subjects it uses sources from school systems in Japan and Egypt as well as France and Great Britain.  In these four school systems and in many others, educators debated the uses of drawing and music education for instructing children’s inner selves.  In a modern world that has been characterized as rational and empirical but disenchanted, the case of art education in modern schools shows the scope of projects for influencing children’s aesthetic desires by educating their sensory experiences of the world.  Next to cognitive skills and moral precepts, there lies an entire realm made of aesthetic experiences that create attractions and promise pleasures.  Both deeply ingrained in the body and socially constructed, this realm of the senses became a concern to educators and policy makers interested in re-enchanting the modern school and its teachings.

The Age of the Typewriter: Writing, Aesthetics, and the Children of the Guttenberg Revolution

The age of the typewriter was bounded by the age of handwriting and the age of the computer.  It lasted approximately one century, from the first commercially successful Remington model in 1878 to the advent of the word processor at the end of the twentieth century.  Yet while the typewriter caused a revolution in the speed and efficiency of writing in the Western world, it had considerable difficulty adapting to non-Latin scripts.  This research into non-Latin script typewriters focuses on the history of typewriting in three of the largest non-Latin script families: Chinese characters in Japan, Devanagari characters in South Asia, and Arabic characters in the Middle East and North Africa.  It hypothesizes that anonymity was key to the typewriter’s global success.  Although not faster than the brush or pen, the typewriter transformed labor relations by separating the hand from the word, masked individual attributes like gender from the reader, and made it possible for female typists to replace male scribes.  Even more than helping to transform women’s roles, however, I argue that by virtualizing the relationship between the hand and the word, the typewriter transformed the nature of communication.  Handwriting was harder to read because it left behind a trace of the hand of the writer, of their gender but also of their educational level, level of physical fatigue, or emotional state.  Typewriting stripped writing of this trace and, in so doing, made it more legible but also more malleable as a bit of data that could easily be stored, transmitted, searched, and retrieved.  This book project uses the history of the typewriter to both take us to the prehistory of the database and bring us back to handwriting as a form of thick expression that leaves a sediment of the body dispersed in the written word.  If the seminal moment in the history of the book was the Gutenberg revolution, this work turns to the history of writing to help us understand our condition as children of that revolution.