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Indiana University Bloomington

Images of Japan

Scott O'Bryan « Faculty

Scott O'BryanAssociate Professor and Department Chair, EALC
Associate Professor, History

spobryan at
GA 2031
(812) 855-2454


Research Interests

Courses Recently Taught

Awards and Distinctions

Publication Highlights

I consider myself to be a historian of the modern era first and a historian of Japan second. I am motivated in both my research and teaching by the desire to work against exceptionalist views of Japanese history, whether praising or damning, and to place Japanese experience squarely within the broader transnational history of modernity. I believe that historical invocations by Japanese of various brands of national exceptionalism should be seen not so much as evidence of actual deviation from some putatively normal modern trajectory (usually labeled "western"), but as themselves part of the very vocabulary of modern modes of expression.

My first book examined the intellectual history of Japanese capitalism in the twentieth century. I explored the ways changing modes of economic knowledge shaped conceptions of the modern nation and were mobilized in the service of cultural ideologies of national power. I was specifically interested in that work in the legitimation over the last century of the concept of high economic growth and of mass consumption lifestyles. My work tells a history of the ideal of never-ending growth and, as such, hopefully contributes in its own way to the field of environmental history and to attempts to reconceive economies in terms of sustainable alternatives to growthist paradigms.

My new book project lies at the intersection of environmental and urban history and explores the history of urban climate change and Japanese meteorology, one of the seminal instances of the rise of post-world War II climate science.

A current representative piece of this new research is a paper I’m currently writing titled, “The Temporalities of Urban Adaptation: Tokyo, Heat Islands, and the Climatic Dilemmas of Built Environments.” Examining the contemporary history of Tokyo as one of the premier examples in the world of what is called the urban heat island effect--and of scientific and official attempts to understand and represent this climatic phenomenon--this paper seeks to examine the ways in which the presence of our built environments reveals the very “built” nature of the climate itself:  Climate experts, officials and citizens alike have been scrambling over the last two decades to demonstrate the ways in which urban planning, development, changing lifestyles, and architectural decisions have conspired in Tokyo to increase the average temperature of the city by 3 degrees centigrade over the last century and thus to change even what seem the most apparently natural elements of the city’s climatic environment, the winds and rain. During the last ten years in particular, campaigns to increase green space in the city, a familiar aspect of hopes for urban reform for at least half a century, have now taken on a changed meaning. The “greening” (ryokka) of Tokyo no longer seems necessary on purely aesthetic or lifestyle grounds, but as an urgent means to cool down the rapidly heating city.

I teach a wide variety of courses in the history of East Asia and Japan as well world environmental history and world urban history.