I am an art history professor based in Minnesota. I research modern and contemporary Japanese art and visual culture with a focus on issues of race and print culture.
AT A GLANCE
Representations of race are a key element that I explore in my research. In my doctoral dissertation, I investigated the visual encounters between the indigenous Ainu in northern Japan and Euro-American/Japanese tourists, artists, and anthropologists at the turn-of-the-twentieth century. My research pays close attention to the reproduction and circulation of visual culture in media such as postcards, illustrations, and newspapers in order to examine how diverse visual examples worked together to solidify an indigenous stereotype. I also explore how Ainu communities responded to these same images in their own illustration.
I am currently working on a book proposal that expands the audience and scope of my original dissertation by analyzing Ainu representation alongside similar visual practices with regards to groups like the Maori in New Zealand, the Inuit in North America, and Aborigines in Taiwan. I recently published a peer-reviewed article on Ainu representation an Ainu video game heroine popular in the 1990s.
I am interested in the relationship between art and travel. British explorer and naturalist Isabella Lucy Bird (1831-1904) traveled to Japan in 1878. Her trip touches on several issues important to me: the exploration of Hokkaido, the representation of indigenous cultures, the reuse of Japanese photographs in the publishing industry, and the role of Western women in teaching Asian culture to people back home. I wrote about Bird in the first chapter of my dissertation, and this research forms the basis of my essay “‘Civilized’ Men and ‘Superstitious’ Women: Visualizing the Hokkaido Ainu in Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks, 1880” in Gender, Continuity, and the Shaping of Modernity in the Arts of East Asia, 16th–20th Centuries (Brill, 2017). I am also the creator and webmaster of the Mapping Isabella Bird project released in 2018, which is dedicated to the research of her travelogue Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880).
There is global value in local objects. Recently, I have been researching a small crepe-paper book (chirimen-bon) quaintly titled The Smiling Book (1897) found inside the St. Catherine University Archives & Special Collections. The book was made in in Meiji Japan by publisher Hasegawa Takejiro for a Western audience. It combines the fabric-like texture of crepe, Japanese woodblock prints, and fragments from poems in both Japanese and English into a rich interdisciplinary object. The work can be used to unlock the complicated role of women in the production, consumption, and collection of Meiji visual culture.
I presented my preliminary research at the Art Historians of the Twin Cities Symposium in 2017 and at Kanagawa University in 2018, and I am currently in the process of writing an article about The Smiling Book. I use this unique object as a key to unlock surprising global and local connections between Tokyo and a Minnesota artist by the name of Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch.
Our study of “art history” need not stop at fine art. My interest in applying art historical methods to video games stems largely from the interests of my students at St. Catherine University, St. Olaf College, and UC Irvine. I believe the methodology of art history gives us the opportunity to ask new questions of contemporary objects in comparison to more historical counterparts. Students can recognize the unique qualities of video games while integrating them into a more complete understanding of visual culture. This research unites my teaching and my training by bridging art history, media studies, and visual studies.
I am broadly concerned with race and gender representation in games and how it connects to larger trends in visual culture. I have presented nationally at interdisciplinary conferences like the Popular Culture Association, Mechademia, and Console-ing Passions on gender in arcade fighting games. Thus far, I have focused on specific characters including the Ainu princess Nakoruru from Samurai Spirits (Samurai Shodown) and Chun-Li of Street Fighter II fame. More recently, I have begun investigating how the integration of historical Asian architecture in fantasy massively multiplayer online RPGs (MMORPGs) cultivates neo-Orientalist exoticism in contemporary virtual spaces.