History Department
History Department

Mark Ravina

ProfessorPh.D., 1991, Stanford University, A.B. Columbia, 1983



My specialty is Japanese history, especially eighteenth and nineteenth-century politics, but my broader methodological interest is in the transnational and international dimension of state-building. My third book, To Stand with the Nations of the World: Japan’s Meiji Restoration as World History was published in 2017 by Oxford University Press and won the best book prize of the Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies. My early work on that topic, based on a paper I delivered a Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study was published as "State-Making in Global Context: Japan in a World of Nation-States." In The Teleology of the Modern Nation-State, edited by Joshua Fogel, 87-104. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

My current research focuses on political language in nineteenth-century Japan, with a focus on text mining. In summer 2017 I ran, together with Hoyt Long and Molly DesJardin, a text mining workshop focused on the unique challenges of Japanese texts.
In public scholarship, I recently completed a 24-part course for The Great Courses, co-branded with the Smithsonian Institution, entitled Understanding JapanI am currently working on a second course on modern Japan.

In 2004 I published a biography of Saigō Takamori entitled The Last Samurai (John Wiley & Sons). Saigō was the inspiration for the character Katsumoto in the Tom Cruise film, also entitled The Last Samurai. I had begun working on the book without any knowledge of the movie, but the Warner Brothers film sparked a surge in general interest on Saigō. I appeared as a "guest expert" on CNN and on two History Channel programs: "History vs. Hollywood" and "The Samurai."The Last Samurai been translated into Chinese, Russian, and Polish. My first book was Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan (Stanford, 1999), also published in Japanese translation as Meikun no satetsu 名君の蹉跌 (NTT shuppan 2004).


HIS 381 • Empires And Imperialism

38465 • Fall 2019
Meets W 3:00PM-6:00PM GAR 1.122
(also listed as ANS 391)

This course is an introduction to the history and historiography of empires: what they were, what they are, how they work, and how researchers have explored these questions. We will examine a range of explanations for empire: institutional, geopolitical, economic, and cultural. Readings will include explorations of ancient Roman, Ottoman, Ming, Qing, modern British, French, Japanese, and American empires. Our major questions will include

·      Can a single definition of empire account for polities as diverse as ancient Rome and Qing China? What are the advantages of such general definitions over regional and chronological specificity?

·      What drove empire formation? How should we weigh economic demands, geopolitical rivalries, and domestic pressures?

·      At the beginning of the last century, much of the world lived within a European empire, either in a colony or in the metropole. Was nineteenth-century European colonialism unique, or simply an intense instance of a broader historical process?

·      How does imperialism relate to nationalism and local political identities? Does imperialism efface or create national identities?

·      How do empires shape quotidian lived experience? How do empires transform gender identities and family practices?


Weekly assignments: During the semester, write six short responses (800-1000 words) to the week’s readings. Try not to summarize, or focus on a single work, but to explore a central issue that connects the readings. Think about how and why questions have been framed, and the questions that remain unanswered or not even imagined.
Mock ACLS grant proposal: Begin formulating your research question with mock grant proposal. The proposal should include a title, an 800-character abstract, a 2000-character proposal, and a bibliography.
Research paper (5000 words): Explore a question in your specialty and relate it to the course readings. Should your research topic be considered an instance of imperialism? Use both secondary and primary sources and include a bibliography.

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