Chelsea Ward

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Japanese

I specialize in modern Japanese literature and film, with additional areas of expertise in comparative literature, global modernism, translation studies, media theory, and sensory history.

My work reconsiders literary movements, media theory, and the materiality of media archives in modern and contemporary Japan through the lenses of translation and sensory history. I am currently writing a book on how Japanese modernist praxis in the interwar period negotiated a variety of cultural and scientific understandings of sensory perception across genre and media categories. On this basis, I reframe modernist moments in silent film, translation, colonial literature and historical fiction as the negotiation of multiple representational realisms brought together by processes of modernization and colonialism. A subsequent book project focuses on how postwar Japanese artistic, intellectual, and commercial entities came together in the 1970s and 1980s to collaboratively construct a “Japanese” sensorium that defined modern interpretations of traditional aesthetics within highbrow objects designed for both international export as well as domestic consumption. Forthcoming articles include a history of how copyright law and digitization shaped karaoke’s televisual ambience in the 1980s and 1990s and an examination colonial affect in modernist Korean Japanophone poetry in the 1920s and 1930s through the lens of color.

I believe that a humanities education fosters robust critical thinking that enables students to challenge their own assumptions and question dominant narratives around media, identity, and power in their everyday lives beyond the classroom. The history of Japan itself—its richly multicultural interregional history, its imperialist past, as well as its cultural fetishization around the globe—demands that issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging be placed at the forefront of any responsible critical inquiry. A central component of my syllabi, as well as of my own scholarship, is the juxtaposition of marginalized voices, texts, and objects with more canonical works. In doing this, I aim to recontextualize and recirculate well-known texts, and generate productive and even subversive new lines of inquiry; at the same time, this strategy helps trace the formation of minoritized cultural and social identities that question the limitations of these categories. Finally, as a media scholar, I use Japan's distinctive modern technological history in order to encourage students to analyze a variety of media object and to engage with transnational questions of media infrastructure, digital life, and techno-orientalism.

I am committed to bringing an ever more diverse understanding of contemporary Japanese literature and media to American audiences.To this end, I am working to put together guest lectures by contemporary Japanese authors and filmmakers who challenge received notions of a "Japanese" identity. Likewise, growing out of my desire to think through “Japanese” literature both transnationally and translingually, I am currently translating Japanese-American author Nagahara Shōson’s novel Wilderness (1924) into English and am involved in a collaborative effort to translate and digitally archive Japanese-language literary journals produced at the Tule Lake Segregation Center.

Current and upcoming courses

  • This course explores the circulation of genre across popular media forms in 20th and 21st century East Asia as part of the legacy of Japanese colonialism. We will look at primary texts/media objects—fiction, films, animation, tv shows, pop music, and video games—from Japan, Korea, and the broader Sinosphere that embody popular genres including action, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, horror, crime, and romantic comedy. While thinking about definitions of "genre" in a popular context, we will also trace how different genres and forms of media resonate with each other across different national and cultural contexts, with a particular focus on how genre conventions are employed to grapple with imperial or colonial pasts.