Personal Statement:

My research explores the social, cultural, and technological history of mobility in twentieth century Japan and the Japanese Empire. My recent book, Placing Empire: Travel and the Social Imagination in Imperial Japan (California, 2017) examines the spatial politics of the Japanese Empire. My next project considers the history of human labor, transportation technologies and social thought in the twentieth century. I teach graduate and undergraduate courses on modern and recent Japanese history, the history of empire, and critical global history.

Research and Teaching Interests:

• Mobility and Society in Twentieth-Century Japan

• Critical Geography and Modern Empire in Asia and the Pacific



Current Projects:

• The Rickshaw and the Railroad

I’m revisiting the history of mobility in modern Japan through its forgotten technologies — rickshaws, human-powered railways, and feet.

• Bodies and Structures: Deep-Mapping the Spaces of Japanese History

In collaboration with David R. Ambaras (History,  NCSU), this multi-year project brings together scholars of early modern and modern Japan and East Asia to interrogate the spatial history of Japan from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries. Our aim is to create a digital platform through which scholars can study the spaces of Japanese history as multilayered and embodied historical experiences without reifying any one spatial narrative or perspective.



Selected Publications:

Placing Empire: Travel and the Social Imagination in Imperial Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017)

— Open Access! Read now at

— Paperback available at and

— Watch a short interview with Prof. McDonald about the book here.

• “Speaking Japanese: Language and the Expectation of Empire,” in The Affect of Difference:       Representations of Race in the Japanese Empire, ed. Christopher P. Hanscom and Dennis Washburn, 159-179 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2016)

• Mobility in History: The Yearbook of the International Association of the History of Transport, Traffic, and Mobility 7 (New York: Berghahn Journals, 2016). Editor, “Modern Mobilities: Asia.”

• “Asymmetrical Integration: Lessons from a Railway Empire,” Technology and Culture 56, no. 1 (2015): 115-149.

• “Imperial Mobility: Circulation as History in East Asia under Empire,” Transfers 4, no. 3 (2014): 68-87.

• “Intermodality and Beyond: Toward a New History of Mobility in Japan,” Mobility in History 5 (2014): 161-169.

— Read the capsule version at the Mobility in History Blog.

• “Ryôdo, rekishi, aidentitii: Sen-Man kankô to dai Nihon teikoku no keisei” (History, territory,      identity: Sen-Man tourism and the making of the Japanese empire), Contact Zone no. 5 (2012): 1-18.



Honors and Professional Activities:

• UC President’s Faculty Research Fellowship in the Humanities, 2015-2016

• Hellman Fellowship, 2013-2014

• Regents’ Junior Faculty Fellowship, 2013-2014

• Fulbright (Japan-US Educational Commission), 2008-2009