David L. Howell

David L. Howell

Department Chair
Robert K. and Dale J. Weary Professor of Japanese History
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Professor David L. Howell grew up in Hilo, Hawai'i. After graduating from the University of Hawai'i at Hilo, he studied at Hokkaido University in Sapporo and Princeton University, where he received his Ph.D. in History. He taught at the University of Texas at Austin from 1989 to 1992 and Princeton University from 1993 to 2010. A historian of early modern Japanese history, he joined the Harvard faculty in 2010 and was named the Robert K. and Dale J. Weary Professor of Japanese History in 2019.  He holds a joint appointment in the History Department. 

Howell has written two books - Capitalism from Within: Economy, Society, and the State in a Japanese Fishery (Berkeley, 1995) and Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan (Princeton, 2005) and numerous articles, including "The Girl with the Horse-Dung Hairdo," in Looking Modern: East Asian Visual Culture from the Treaty Ports to World War II (Chicago, 2010); and “Foreign Encounters and Informal Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan” (Journal of Japanese Studies, Washington, 2014).

Professor Howell's research focuses on the social history of Japan in the Tokugawa (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods. He is particularly interested in the ways changing political and economic institutions affected the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people over the course of the nineteenth century. His current projects The Meiji Restoration: Continuity and Transformation Japan’s Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, forthcoming), and a history of human waste and garbage in the cities of Tokugawa and Meiji Japan. Professor Howell is the editor of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies and is currently serving as Department Chair.


Contact Information

2 Divinity Ave., Department Chair's Office, room 224, enter through room 222.
p: (617) 495-8367
Office Hours: Fall 2022: Thursday 3:00-5:00 pm in room 224 and by appointment


Faculty Fields

Faculty Area