Department ofHistory

Jessamyn Abel

Jessamyn Abel

Associate Professor in Asian Studies and History

201C Old Botany Building

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: (814) 865-3931

Curriculum Vitae:


PhD, Columbia University, 2004
MIA, Columbia University, 1997
BA, Princeton University, 1992
Jessamyn Abel Headshot


I am a historian of modern Japan with interests in cultural history, technology, infrastructure, sports, and international relations. My first book, The International Minimum: Creativity and Contradiction in Japan’s Global Engagement, 1933-1964, examines the transwar development of Japanese internationalism. My second book, Dream Super-Express: A Cultural History of the World’s First Bullet Train, views the 1960s through the window of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, showing how infrastructure operates beyond its intended use as a means of transportation to perform cultural and sociological functions. Other publications include articles on technology and infrastructure, the Tokyo Olympics, cultural diplomacy, textbooks, and the history of whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries. My current research is on the intertwined politics and culture of food security in postwar Japan.

Recent Publications:

Dream Super-Express: A Cultural History of the World’s First Bullet Train (Stanford University Press, 2022).

“Information Society on Track: Communication, Crime, and Japan’s First Bullet Train.” Journal of Japanese Studies 47, no. 2 (Summer 2021): 349-379.

“Technologies of Cold War Diplomacy: Transforming Japan.” Technology and Culture (January 2021): 128-155.

“Railway Stations and the Production of Invisibile Infrastructures.” City and Society (August 2020) DOI: 10.1111/CISO.12322.

“Borrowed Spectacle: Olympic Rhetoric in Political Battles.” In The Routledge Handbook of Sport in Asia, edited by Fan Hong and Lu Zhouxiang, 515-521. Routledge, 2020.

“The Power of a Line: How the Bullet Train Transformed Urban Space.” Positions: Asia Critique 27, no. 3 (August 2019): 531-555.

“Ethics and Internationalism in Japanese Education, 1933-1945.” Modern Asian Studies 52, no. 2 (March 2018): 532-575.

The International Minimum: Creativity and Contradiction in Japan’s Global Engagement, 1933-1964 (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015).

“Cultural Internationalism and Japan’s Wartime Empire.” Tumultuous Decade: Japan’s Challenge to the International System, 1931-41. Eds. Tosh Minohara and Masato Kimura. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

“Japan’s Sporting Diplomacy: The 1964 Tokyo Olympiad.” The International History Review (June 2012), 1-18.

“When Athletes Are Diplomats: Competing for World Opinion at the Tokyo Olympiads.”  The East Asian Olympiads 1934-2008: Building Bodies and Nations in Japan, Korea, and China.  Eds. William M. Tsutsui and Michael Baskett.  Folkestone, UK: Global Oriental, 2011.

“The Ambivalence of Whaling: Conflicting Cultures in Identity-Formation.” JAPANimals: History and Culture in Japan’s Animal Life. Eds. Gregory M. Pflugfelder and Brett L. Walker. Michigan Monograph Series in Japanese Studies 52. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2005.

Awards and Service:

Humanities Institute Resident Scholar, Penn State University (Spring 2019).
Center for the Study of Sports in Society Faculty Research Grant, Penn State Univ. (2018).
Center for Humanities and Information Faculty Fellow (Spring 2016)
NEAC-AAS, Short-term Research Travel to Japan Grant (Summer 2015).
Editorial collective, Verge: Studies in Global Asias (Fall 2014-present).
Japan Foundation Short-Term Research Fellowship (Summer 2013).
Twentieth Century Japan Research Award, Miller Center for Historical Studies, Univ. of Maryland (Spring 2013)
Harvard-Yenching Travel Grant, Harvard University (2012)
Kent Forster Memorial Fund Award, Pennsylvania State University (2011)
Advanced Research Fellow, Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, Harvard University (2008-2009)
Japan Foundation Short-Term Research Fellowship (2008)

Recent Courses:

HIST 474  Early Modern Japan
ASIA 101N  Sports in Asia 
ASIA 430  Japan in the World 
ASIA 400  International Culture in East Asia
HIST 172  Introduction to Japanese Civilization


Areas of Specialization: