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Laura Nenzi



I am a social historian of early modern Japan interested in gender, space, memory, and identity. In my first book, Excursions in Identity (2008) I examined the manifold ways in which early modern wayfarers across the social spectrum engaged with the spaces of travel, using the open road and the blank pages of their diaries to redraw, temporarily, their social coordinates. While travelers of both sexes partook in this exercise, women were especially keen on reimagining their identities while on the road. The book takes into account the transformations brought upon travel practices by the rise of the commercial economy in the second half of the Tokugawa period; by the nineteenth century, it argues, engaging with the travelscapes and reconfiguring one’s place in society no longer required erudition: money sufficed. Souvenirs and local specialties enabled visitors to acquire the heritage of famous sites by way of a monetary transaction.

My latest book, The Chaos and Cosmos of Kurosawa Tokiko (2015), follows the life trajectory of a base-born woman from a rural community, a teacher and oracle who became a political activist in the closing years of the Tokugawa. Unimportant and unknown, Kurosawa Tokiko lived across the transition that marked the end of the Tokugawa and the beginning of the Meiji era in Japan. Her story enriches the broader narrative of the late-Tokugawa crisis, the collapse of the shogunate, and the rise of the modern state, illuminating hitherto unknown paths to female intrusion in the political landscape, nuancing our understanding of late-Tokugawa ideology and society, and highlighting creative forms of adaptation and resistance to the policies of the modern state.

At the University of Tennessee I offer undergraduate courses in World History, Pre-modern and Modern Japanese History, and the History of Tokyo; at the graduate level I teach seminars on the Making of Modern Japan and Teaching World History.


Ph.D. University of California Santa Barbara, 2004

Laurea summa cum laude, University of Venice Ca’ Foscari, Italy, 1994

Awards and Recognitions

  • Residential Fellowship, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 2014
  • Award for New Research, Scholarly and Creative Projects in the Arts and Humanities, University of Tennessee Knoxville, 2012
  • Visiting Scholar, Kokuritsu Rekishi Minzoku Hakubutsukan (National Museum of History and Folklore), Sakura, Japan, 2011
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Research Award, 2008-2009
  • Japan Foundation Fellowship, 2001

Selected Publications


  • The Chaos and Cosmos of Kurosawa Tokiko: One Woman’s Transit from Tokugawa to Meiji Japan (University of Hawai’i Press, 2015).
  • Excursions in Identity: Travel and the Intersection of Place, Gender, and Status in Edo Japan (University of Hawai’i Press, 2008).

Articles and Book Chapters

  • “Chiiki shakai ni okeru josei to seiji: Kurosawa Tokiko o chūshin ni” (Women and Politics in Regional Society: The Case of Kurosawa Tokiko). In Meiji ishin to josei, edited by Nishizawa Naoko and Yokoyama Yuriko, 55-88. Tokyo: Yūshisha, 2015.
  • “Portents and Politics: Two Women Activists on the Verge of the Meiji Restoration.” Journal of Japanese Studies 38:1 (Winter 2012): 1-23.
  • “Caught in the Spotlight: The 1858 Comet and Late-Tokugawa Japan.” Japan Forum 23:1 (2011): 1-23.
  • “Kūkan no sōtaiseiriron: kinsei ni okeru Edo no ichi” (A Theory of Spatial Relativity: The Place of Edo in Edo History). In Shūhenshi kara zentaishi e, edited by Kawanishi Hidemichi, Namikawa Kenji, and David Howell, 177-191. Tokyo: Seibundō, 2009.
  • “Encountering the World: Kawai Tsugunosuke’s 1859 Journey to Yokohama and Nagasaki.” Early Modern Japan XVI (2008): 68-83.
  • “To Ise at All Costs: Religious and Economic Implications of Early Modern Nukemairi.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 33:1 (2006): 75-114.
  • “Cultured Travelers and Consumer Tourists in Edo-Period Sagami.” Monumenta Nipponica 59:3 (Autumn 2004): 285-319.

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