Welcoming New Faculty: Q&A with Laura Nenzi

In the fall of 2022 the Emory History Department welcomes Dr. Laura Nenzi, a social historian of early modern Japan, as Acting Full Professor. In the latest installment of our Welcoming New Faculty series, Dr. Nenzi offers a glimpse into her research and teaching along with what drew her to Emory.

Tell us about the focus of your research and principal current project.

I am a social historian of early modern Japan. I enjoy writing history in different scales, from the very small (the life of an ordinary person) to the large (trends spanning two and a half centuries). I have written about travel culture, commercial publishers, space, identity, and about political activism in the nineteenth century. I have published two books, both of which put women at the center of historical investigation.

My current project is a history of the night in early modern Japan (1600-1868). It started out as an antiquarian curiosity: what happened in Edo (Tokyo) after dark? Through the mid-nineteenth century Edo, the largest city in the world, home to one million people, lacked one of the key features of the modern night: public illumination. At the same time, other elements associated with the modern night—regulation, consumption, imagination, and sociability—were firmly in place. This is where my antiquarian curiosity led to a legitimate historical inquiry, for Japan’s early modern night muddles the conventional divide between the pre-industrial and the modern eras and compels us to revisit assumptions about Japan’s modernization, technology-driven histories, and ultimately about narratives of the global nighttime.

Was there a particularly memorable moment from archival or field research that has had a lasting impact on your work or career?

Any historian will tell you that the serendipitous discoveries in the archives and the small things that escalate into something big are among the best parts of our job. For me, this happened as I was thinking about the subject of my second book, Kurosawa Tokiko, a fortuneteller, poet, and rural teacher who became a political activist in the 1850s. Her actions were ultimately inconsequential, and so she is not (or was not, I should say) a well-known figure in the history of late Tokugawa Japan. My first attempt to retrieve one of her manuscript diaries ended in failure, because, I found out, it had been destroyed during the Tokyo air raids of 1945. A librarian suggested I reach out to her descendants and found a street address where they could be reached. No email. So, I wrote and mailed a letter. This led to an invitation to visit her native home, which local activists were trying to preserve, and the local archives. I showed up expecting three or four documents, and would have been happy with that. They started bringing out the envelopes. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven… at fourteen I stopped counting, they kept going. I knew right there and then that I had a book to write. To this day I remain friends with the people who helped me rescue her from oblivion. After the book came out, they used it as evidence that there is interest in her story outside the confines of her town and that her home should indeed be preserved. A win-win for everyone.

What sort of courses – undergraduate or graduate – are you most excited to offer at Emory?

There are Japanese History undergraduate courses in the catalog that I am inheriting and that I am very happy to teach, but I am most excited to introduce two new ones that have been among my most popular undergraduate classes at my previous institution: The History of Tokyo and The Samurai: Fact, Fiction, Fantasy. The department has a commitment to transnational, comparative, and global themes, so I will also be offering graduate and undergraduate classes that look at various interactions between Japan and the outside world between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Some of these I have done before, and some are new and based on very recent, very exciting scholarship that I cannot wait to share with my students.

What drew you to Emory?

The departmental and institutional commitment to and support for academic excellence. The freedom to discuss issues that, more and more, are being censored elsewhere as “divisive.” My colleagues in the department, some of whom have written books and articles I have been using for years in my classes, and my colleagues in the department of Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures. The possibility to train my own graduate students. Also, as someone who taught professionalization seminars for many years, I am in awe of Emory’s TATTO program and excited to be part of it. Emory’s overall commitment to diversity and inclusion. The diverse student body. Atlanta. So, pretty much everything.

Eckert Publishes German Edition of ‘West Germany and the Iron Curtain’

In spring 2022, Prof. Astrid M. Eckert published her book West Germany and the Iron Curtain in a German edition called Zonenrandgebiet. Westdeutschland und der Eiserne Vorhang with Ch. Links Publishers in Berlin. Over the course of the summer, Prof. Eckert was on a book tour in Germany and gave several interviews, including with the Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (MDR). She also recorded an episode for the Stasi Archive podcast series. The book was reviewed in the leading German newspapers, for instance in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as well as in Deutschlandfunk. The book was also featured in heute journal, one of the two main news shows on German TV.

Klibanoff Discusses Civil Rights Era Cold Cases and Contemporary Hates Crimes

Professor Hank Klibanoff, James M. Cox Jr. Professor of Journalism and Associated Faculty in the History Department, recently spoke before the City Club of Cleveland about his work on racially-motivated killings in the U.S. South during the Civil Rights era and since. Klibanoff founded the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project and is the host of the Buried Truths podcast. He was also recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the Federal Civil Rights Cold Case Review Board. Klibanoff’s talk in Cleveland is available on The Sound of Ideas, Ideastream Public Media’s weekday morning news and information program focusing on Northeast Ohio: “Examining racial murders of the Civil Rights era, and drawing connections to hate crimes of today.”

Anderson Speaks on Voter Disenfranchisement at Juneteenth Gala

Dr. Carol Anderson, Charles Howard Candler Professor and Chair of African-American Studies, spoke on voter disenfranchisement at a Juneteenth gala in Dalton, Georgia. The Dalton Daily Citizen covered Anderson’s speech, which was organized by the Dalton-Whitfield NAACP. Anderson is the author of multiple influential books on racial inequality and politics in the U.S., including White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (Bloomsbury, 2016) and One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy (Bloomsbury, 2018). Read an excerpt from the Dalton Daily Citizen’s coverage below along with the full article here: “Emory professor sounds alarm on voter disenfranchisement.”

“The thing about a lie is, if you say it enough and convincingly, it becomes the truth,” said Anderson, Charles Howard Candler professor and chair of African American Studies at Emory University. “We’re in a war for American democracy right now, and the only way it’ll be won is by fighting for democracy.”