Department of History

Raja Adal

  • Associate Professor


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


Modern Japan
Digital and Critical Approaches to Asian History
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 

Buitrago, Paola, Evgeny Toropov, Rajanie Prabha, Julian Uran, and Raja Adal, “MiikeMineStamps: A Long-Tailed Dataset of Japanese Stamps via Active Learning.” ICDAR 2021.  Springer, 2021: 3-19.

How do you Understand ‘Infrastructure.’” In Infrastructures of Inter-Asian Connection: Scripts, Media, Movement. Special Issue: Infrastructures and Global Political Aesthetics. Verge: Studies in Global Asias 6, no. 2 (Fall 2020): 50-55.

Taipuraitā ha shintai to bunshō wo tsunageuruka?” [Can the typewriter connect the body and the text?]. In “Mitsui bunko shiryō: Watashi no itten.” Special issue, Mitsui bunko rongi 50 (2017): 4-5 (link).

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

This project is about the relationship between scripts and the instruments used to write them.  It begins in the late nineteenth century, when typewriters had become the standard instrument for writing formal documents in the world of Latin characters, but when typewriters for writing other world scripts including the Arabic, Chinese, and Devanagari scripts had not yet been commercialized.  The inability to mechanize the inscription of some of the world’s most common scripts contributed to doubts about their suitability in the modern world.  Based on sources collected in a half a dozen countries and on visualizations of a global dataset of world languages, the first part of this book traces the dramatic transformations in what I refer to as the global script regime and its relation to the instruments used to write various scripts.

Unlike this first part, the second part of this book is grounded in a single archive, that of the Mitsui Mi’ike Mine, which consists of more than thirty thousand pages spanning over half a century.  Through a close and distant reading of this archive I trace the advent of Chinese-character Japanese typewriters into Mitsui Mi’ike Mine offices and the revolution that they brought to the production, reproduction, storage, and consumption of documents.  Even a typewriter as large and unwieldly as the Chinese-character typewriter, I argue, was crucial to the birth of the contemporary document regime – with its division in the labor of writing, conform copies, document repositories, and clearly legible texts – that we take for granted today.  The affordances of the Japanese typewriter introduced in the second part of this book thus help to understand why the global cast of characters discussed in the first part of the book were so concerned about the development of a typewriter for Arabic, Chinese, and Devanagari scripts.  Beyond the age of the typewriter, the intertwined relationship between scripts and the instruments used to write them is relevant today, when a common electronic device can write up to 154 scripts, and to the future of the global script regime.