Research

Current Research

My research is always evolving, but these are some of my current and ongoing projects. I work in an interdisciplinary mode that engages with art history, visual culture, and media studies.

Representations of race are a key element that I explore in my research on Japan. In my doctoral dissertation (2015), 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.

To disseminate this research, I published a chapter (2017) about how Ainu images were used in Isabella Bird’s popular travelogue Unbeaten Tracks in Japan published in 1880. Recently, I contributed an online module about images of Ainu women in Japanese photography to Behind the Camera (2022). I have presented on similar themes at the College Art Association,  the Association for Asian Studies, and the American Historical Association. 

More recently, I have been researching how these lessons of the past influence contemporary visual culture. These these ends, I published an article (2020) on the media representation of Nakoruru, a popular video game heroine of the Samurai Spirits franchise in the 1990s. I also have a forthcoming article in Verge: Studies in Global Asia about the representation of Ainu culinary culture in the anime and manga series Golden Kamuy (Fall 2023).

Over the course of my career, I have always been 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. Olaf College, St. Catherine University, 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 architectural space in open-world role-playing games. I’m interested in not only the experience of space, but how Asian architectural themes emerge in the fantasy genre.

Writing

Use the accordion menu below to navigate between various types of publications. I have work in peer-reviewed publications as well as more accessible online forums.

Spiker, Christina M. “Food as Contact Zone: Navigating the Ainu/Wajin Encounter in Golden Kamuy (2014-).” In “Culinary Cultures on the Move” edited by Tina Chen, Krishnendu Ray, and Jooyeon Rhee. Special Issue. Verge: Studies in Global Asia 9, no. 2 (forthcoming).

Spiker, Christina M. “The Indigenous Shôjo: Transmedia Representations of Ainu Femininity in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993–2019.” Journal of Anime and Manga Studies 1 (2020): 138-168.

Spiker, Christina M. “‘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, edited by Lara Blanchard and Kristen Chiem, 287-315. Leiden: Brill, 2017.

Spiker, Christina M. “At the Limits of Visibility: Noritaka Minami’s Past Won’t Pass (Catalog #52)” in Octopus Journal 5 (2011): 1-4.

Spiker, Christina M. “Thirty-Six Views of One World Trade Center in Context: The Symbolic Power of Landscape.” For Thirty-six Views of One World Trade Center: Stone Lithographs by Brenda Berkman. Catalogue. Northfield, MN: Engage Print, 2021.

Spiker, Christina M. “Nostalgia as Remedy: Contextualizing the Japanese Woodblock Prints in the Archives and Special Collections.” For Nostalgic Femininity and From Flowers to Warriors: Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Archives & Special Collections. Exhibition catalogue. Saint Paul, MN: The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery, 2019.

Takashina, Erika. Sea of Hybridization: In Dispute over Urashima from The Sea BeyondHōsui, Seiki, Tenshin, and the West. Translated by Christina M. Spiker.Review of Japanese Culture and Society 26:1 (2014), 80-103.

Galvin, Kristen and Christina M. Spiker. “The Cost of Precarity: Contingent Academic Labor in the Gig Economy” in Art Journal Open (May 1, 2019).

Galvin, Kristen and Christina M. Spiker. “Generation Wipeout,” part of “Beyond Survival: Public Support of the Arts and Humanities” in Art Journal Open (October 25, 2018).

Spiker, Christina M. “What’s Your Sutori? Interactive Study Guides and Active Note-Taking,” in AHTR Weekly, Art History Teaching Resources (November 17, 2017).

Spiker, Christina M. “Should You Pull?: Gachapon, Risk, and Reward in Mobile Gaming,” in First Person Scholar (September 6, 2017).

Spiker, Christina M. “Navigating Space and Place: Digital Cartography in the Classroom” in AHTR Weekly, Art History Teaching Resources (March 31, 2017).

Mapping Isabella Bird: Geolocation & Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880). Scalar 2, ArcGIS, CARTODB (Ongoing).

Minority Visual Representation in Asia  (w/ undergraduate students Adele Gordon ’20 and Julianne Stewart ’20, St. Olaf College). WordPress, StoryMap JS (2020).

Japanese Woodblock Prints @ St. Kate’s (w/ undergraduate students MaryJane Eischen ’20 and Nicole Wallin ’19, St. Catherine University). Scalar 2, TimelineJS (2018-2019).

Traveling Hokkaido in the Late Nineteenth Century. ArcGIS (2015-2017).

Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre. Sample Digital Assignment. StoryMapJS (2015).

Utagawa Hiroshige’s Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō. Sample Digital Assignment. StoryMapJS (2015).

Speaking

I value the opportunity to engage various audiences with my research. I have presented at both academic conferences as well as events geared towards the general public. You can navigate both future and past speaking engagements below.

Objects that Speak: A Multimedia Exploration of Ainu Art and Representation,” invited public lecture delivered at Macalester College (September 15, 2022).

The Ainu of Northern Japan: Their Unique Textile Tradition,” invited public lecture delivered at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (July 21, 2022).

Consuming Difference: Understanding Food as Ideology in Japanese Anime,” paper delivered at the Popular Culture Association, Seattle (Virtual) (April 13-16, 2022).

Carved from a Single Block: The Materiality of Wood in Ainu and Japanese Cultures,” paper delivered on the “Decentering ‘Japanese Art History’: Rethinking Periodization, Geography, and Historiography” panel at the Association for Asian Studies, Honolulu (March 24-27, 2022).

Food Anime and the Consumption of Difference: A Comparative Analysis of Golden Kamuy (2018-2020) and Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits (2018),” paper delivered at the Midwest Popular Culture Association Conference (October 7-10, 2021).

Reflections at the 20th Anniversary of 9/11,” panel conversation with Brenda Berkman, Jan Ramirez, and John Sauer in conjunction with the exhibition Altered Skyline: Brenda Berkman’s Thirty-six Views of One World Trade Center, Flaten Art Museum (September 17, 2021).

Food as Contact Zone: Navigating the Encounter Between Ethnic Japanese and Indigenous Ainu in Golden Kamuy,” paper delivered at the virtual 51st Annual Popular Culture Association Conference (June 2-5, 2021).

Refashioning Meiji: An Introduction to Japanese Westernization in the Late Nineteenth Century,” invited guest lecture delivered in AH1120: Globalization, Art and Visual Culture (Prof. Deanna Kashani), CSU San Bernadino (February 24, 2021)

Optical Consistency in Ainu Photography: Tracing Networks of Transnational Reproduction,” paper delivered on the “Imaginaries in Motion: Early Transnational Photography in and beyond Asia” panel at the virtual annual Association of Asian Studies Conference (March 21-26, 2021).

“Irankarapte: An Introduction to Ainu Culture in Japan,” public webinar delivered at the Japan America Society of Minnesota (September 3, 2020).

Golden Kamuy and the Discourse of Ethnic Harmony: Defining a Multi-Ethnic Japan in Anime and Manga,” paper to be delivered on the “Imaginaries in Motion: Early Transnational Photography in and beyond Asia” panel at the 50th Annual Popular Culture Association Conference, Philadelphia, PA (April 15-18, 2020). [Cancelled Due to COVID-19]

“Optical Consistency in Ainu Photography: Tracing Networks of Transnational Reproduction,” paper to be delivered at the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) Conference, Boston (March 19-22, 2020). [Cancelled Due to COVID-19]

“The ‘Nakoruru Problem’: The Malleable Ainu Image in Samurai Shodown, 1993-2019,” paper delivered on the “Queered Through the Foreign, Fictional, and Fetishized Body” panel at the Mechademia Conference for Asian Popular Culture, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (September 27-29, 2019).

“Indigenous Modernity in Hokkaido, Japan: The Complexities of Ainu Representation in Photography and Illustration,” invited public lecture delivered at Macalester College (September 19, 2019).

“Nostalgia as Remedy: Modernity and Sentimentality in Japanese Woodblock Prints of the Meiji Era,” public lecture delivered at The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery in conjunction with the exhibition Nostalgic Femininity: Japanese Woodblock Prints from The St. Catherine University Archives & Special Collections (May 13, 2019).

“Comparative Itineraries: A Digital Humanities Approach to Understanding Authenticity in the Exploration of Hokkaido,” paper delivered at the Travel is Life, Travel is Home: Representing Travel and Landscape in Japan Conference, Iowa State University (April 4-6, 2019).

The White Native Body in Asia: Woodcut Engraving and the Creation of Ainu Stereotypes,” paper delivered on the “Coloring Print: Reproducing Race Through Material, Process, and Language” panel sponsored by Association of Print Scholars at the annual College Art Association (CAA) Conference (February 13-16, 2019).

Western Women and the Poetry of Japanese Crepe-Paper Books” (西洋女性とちりめん本の詩について), invited paper delivered at the Japanese Crepe Paper Books and Girl’s Culture Exhibition and Symposium (「ちりめん本と女性の文化」展覧会・シンポジウム), Kanagawa University (神奈川大学), Yokohama, Japan (November 24, 2018).

The Shôjo and the Indigenous Body: Representations of Ainu Woman in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993-2008,” paper delivered on the “The Shôjo Body as Indigenous, Ubiquitous, Balletic and Beautiful” panel at the 67th Annual Midwest Conference for Asian Affairs (MCAA), Metropolitan State University (October 19-20, 2018).

Vaguely Oriental: Engineering Asian Architecture in Fantasy MMORPGs,” paper delivered at the 48th Annual Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) Conference, Indianapolis (March 28-31, 2018).

Reproducing Alterity: Photography, Illustration, and the Maintenance of Ainu Stereotypes in Meiji and Taisho Japan,” paper delivered on the “Optics: Race, Religion, and Technology in East Asian Visual Culture, 1868-1949” panel at the American Historical Association (AHA) Conference, Washington D.C. (January 4-7, 2018).

Chun-Li’s Qipao: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Fashion in Capcom’s Street Fighter II,” paper delivered at the 47th Annual Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) Conference, San Diego (April 12-15, 2017).

The Texture of Crepe: Western Women and the Connoisseurship of Japanese Crepe Paper Books (chirimen-bon),” paper delivered at the second annual Art Historians of the Twin Cities Symposium, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (April 1, 2017).

Mapping the Northern Frontier: Geo-Spatial Visualization and the Exploration of Indigenous Culture in Japan,” lightning paper delivered at the Global Digital Humanities Symposium, Michigan State University (March 16-17, 2017).

Fighting Stereotypes: Reimagining Gender and Race in Street Fighter II (1991) and Samurai Shodown (1993),” paper delivered at the SGMS/Mechademia Conference on Asian Popular Culture, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (September 23-25, 2016).

“Recasting the Indigenous: Virtual Ainu Ambassadors in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993–2008,” paper delivered at the Console-ing Passions: International Conference on Television, Video, New Media, and Feminism, University of Notre Dame (June 16-18, 2016).

“Touring the Indigenous Village: Kondō Kōichiro’s Ainu Illustrations, 1917,” paper delivered at the first annual Art Historians of the Twin Cities Symposium, St. Catherine University (April 2, 2016).

“Constructing the Indigenous: Nineteenth-Century Circulation and Transformation of the Ainu Image in British and American Print Culture,” paper delivered at the Nineteenth Century Workshop (Theme: Circulation), Rutgers University. (October 2, 2014).

An Itinerary of Hokkaido: Photo Postcards, Tourism, and Erasing the Indigenous Body,” paper delivered at the Eighteenth Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), Sophia University, Tokyo. (June 21, 2014).

Untangling a ‘Hairy’ Encounter: Ainu Representation at the World’s Fair,” invited paper delivered at the Isamu Noguchi & Qi Baishi: And Other Inspiring Encounters In and Beyond Modern Asian Art Symposium, University of Michigan Museum of Art. (May 18, 2013).

Discovering Hokkaido: Postcards, Train Travel, and the Mapping of Tourist Space,” paper delivered at the Nature of Space, Visual Arts Graduate Student Conference, UC San Diego. (March 9, 2013).

Exploring the Real Hokkaido: A.H. Savage Landor’s Travel Illustrations, 1893,” paper delivered at Rethinking the Space and Place of Japan: Japanese Art and Globalizations Conference, UCLA (April 7, 2012).

“’When My Clothes Came to an End I Did Without Them: Going Native in Hokkaido, Japan” Pechakucha paper delivered at the Constructing Worlds: Making and Breaking Order, Visual Studies Graduate Student Conference, UC Irvine (April 5, 2012).

The Ainu Moses: Arnold Genthe’s 1908 Ainu Photography,” paper delivered at the Japan Art History Forum graduate panel, College Arts Association, Los Angeles (February 24, 2012).

Tamoto Kenzō’s Hokkaido: Power in Studio and Documentary Photography,” paper delivered at Center for Asian Studies Graduate Student Forum, UC Irvine (October 27, 2011).