Harvard Welcomes Japanese History Professor

David L. Howell, currently a professor of Japanese Studies at Princeton University, will join the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department in July.

“It’s a real coup for Harvard,” said Susan J. Pharr, a professor of Japanese politics.  Howell will be joining History Professor Andrew D. Gordon ’74 and Assistant Professor of History Ian J. Miller, who are also Japan historians. He will be replacing Professor Harold Bolitho, a former professor of Japanese History who focused on early modern Japan.

Howell is “one of the finest archival historians in the study of Japan and East Asia”, said Ian J. Miller, an assistant professor of history. Howell views Japan from the margins looking in, instead of the traditional view of the political city looking out, said Helen Hardacre, a professor of Japanese religions and society.

Howell is regarded as a great teacher who is very involved with both undergraduate and graduate students. As a graduate student at Columbia University, Miller used to travel to Princeton once a week to take Howell’s classes. “It was one of the best educational experiences of my graduate career,” Miller said.

“He is a really nice guy who students will gravitate towards in a big way,” Hardacre said. At Harvard, Howell will teach a course for undergraduates focusing on Japan during the Tokugawa Period. He will also co-teach a General Education course that will likely be called Societies of the World 13: “Japan: Tradition and Transformation,” said Gordon, who will teach the course with Howell. Howell will give the lectures for the first-half of the course about early modern Japan.


Howell has other ideas about smaller, specialized classes for undergraduates, such as a course about the city of Edo, which was renamed Tokyo in 1868, Howell said. Although Howell will probably not be able to teach a freshman seminar for three or four years, he said he would like to teach a freshman seminar on the samurai or on Edo at Harvard.

Next year, Howell will be living in a faculty apartment in Mather House, he said. His son will be a senior in high school, so Howell’s wife will stay in Princeton with him, Gordon said. Howell said he will eat in the dining hall sometimes and participate in House activities. He said he will be happy to “give talks or engage in other intellectual activities” if asked to do so.

“In my field of Japanese studies, Harvard has always been the center in North America...and the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute is an international hub,” Howell said. “Harvard is a bigger stage than Princeton, so I’m eager to try my hand on the bigger stage.”

—Staff writer Monika L.S. Robbins can be reached at