Department of History

Raja Adal

  • Associate Professor


History of Japan
World history with a focus on Asia and the Middle East
History of Technology


Culture and Aesthetics in Japan
Media and Technology in Asia
Global Approaches to the Concept of Modernity

Education & Training

  • PhD, Harvard University, 2009

Representative Publications

Beauty in the Age of Empire: Japan, Egypt, and the Global History of Aesthetic Education. Columbia Studies in International and Global History.  Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019 

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): 982-1003 (link).

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

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 (link).

Constructing Transnational Islam: The East-West Network of Shakib Arslan.”  In Intellectuals in the Modern Islamic Word: Transmission, Transformation, and Communication.  Edited by Stephane Dudoignon, Hisao Komatsu, and Yasushi Kosugi, 176-210.  London: Routledge, 2006 (link).

Research Interests

Beauty in the Age of Empire: Japan, Egypt, and the Global History of Aesthetic Education

When modern primary schools were first founded in Japan and Egypt in the 1870s, they did not teach art. Yet by the middle of the twentieth century, art education was a permanent part of Japanese and Egyptian primary schooling. Both countries taught music and drawing, and wartime Japan also taught calligraphy. Why did art education become a core feature of schooling in societies as distant as Japan and Egypt, and how is aesthetics entangled with nationalism, colonialism, and empire?

Beauty in the Age of Empire is a global history of aesthetic education focused on how Western practices were adopted, transformed, and repurposed in Egypt and Japan. Raja Adal uncovers the emergence of aesthetic education in modern schools and its role in making a broad spectrum of ideologies from fascism to humanism attractive. With aesthetics, educators sought to enchant children with sounds and sights, using their ears and eyes to make ideologies into objects of desire. Spanning multiple languages and continents, and engaging with the histories of nationalism, art, education, and transnational exchanges, Beauty in the Age of Empire offers a strikingly original account of the rise of aesthetics in modern schools and the modern world. It shows that, while aesthetics is important to all societies, it was all the more important for those countries on the receiving end of Western expansion, which could not claim to be wealthier or more powerful than Western empires, only more beautiful.


The Global Script Regime: A Material History of Writing in the Age of the Typewriter

By 2019, version 12 of the Unicode Standard supported 150 scripts, allowing them to be used on any common digital device like a computer and smart phone.  The working languages of contemporary nation-states, however, only use twenty-two scripts.  Of these twenty-two, four– the Latin, Chinese, Arabic, and Devanagari, scripts – serve to write the first language of about eighty percent of the world population.  How was this script regime born?  This project traces the construction of the global script regime through the rise of the Latin script with European expansion, the institutionalization of regional scripts like Chinese, Arabic, and Devanagari with modern nationalist movements, and the varied trajectories of over one-hundred other scripts over the past century.

Key to this study is the relationship between script and technology.  Today, the working script of a national government must be useable on digital devices.  This study asks when this dependent relationship between script and technology was born.  It argues that the age of the typewriter, from the 1870s to the 1980s, was the foundational moment when writing technology came together with existing calligraphic practices and cultural nationalism to produce the modern global script regime.  Whereas in the early days of the typewriter a typewritten letter was considered a breach of good manners, typewriting soon became the new standard for writing official documents, relegating handwriting to the realm of the subjective, private, and personal.  Not only did the aesthetic appearance of typewritten characters become the new visual norm for official documents, but typewriting was essential in modern offices, transforming the production, consumption, and circulation of written texts, bringing women into the office, redefining literacy, and with the help of carbon paper enabling the circulation of multiple conform copies of a single document.  As the typewriter established machine-written text as the new norm, scripts that could not be typed became unfit for the modern world.  From the world of Arabic characters to the world of Chinese characters and beyond, a global race to commercialize typewriters for non-Latin scripts began.  This history of the global script regime and the typewriter promises to help us understand the role that identity and technology can play in shaping the future of writing.