Susan L. Burns is Associate Professor of History and East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.
This page contains information about my work as a teacher and researcher of early modern and modern Japanese History at the University of Chicago. My research interests include early modern and modern intellectual history, gender and women's history, and the history of medicine and the body. My first book, Before the Nation: Kokugaku and the Imagining of Community in Early Modern Japan (Duke University Press, 2003), sought to complicate our understanding of the relationship between nativist thought and modern concepts of Japanese national identity by examining the work of three little known nativist intellectuals and juxtaposing their work with that of Motoori Norinaga. Since the late nineteenth century Motoori's analysis of the eighth century work, the Kojiki, has been regarded as the defining work of early modern nativism and as a point of origin for modern national consciousness. I argue, however, that Norinaga was only one figure in a complicated debate over the nature of "Japan" that involved ideas about history, language, and subjectivity. By examining this debate, I tried to recover the multiple ways in which Japan was imagined before the formation of the modern state.
In my recent work, I continue to interrogate the relationship between early modern and modern forms of knowledge and social and cultural practices. I am currently finishing up a book on the history of psychiatry in Japan (working title--The Making of Japanese Psychiatry: Medicine, Policy, and Culture) that examines the struggles between physicians, policy makers, the "mad" and their families, and others that accompanied the formation of psychiatry as a medical discipline within Japan in the period between c. 1780 and 1940). I've also begun work on a third book that explores the formation of the modern female body as a product of the intersection of law and medicine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Another area of interest and ongoing research is the patent medicine industry in Japan, which I regard as an extremely useful site from which to explore the relationship between commodity culture and medicine. Finally, I have a longstanding interest in the history of leprosy in Japan. While much of my current work focuses on the second half of the nineteenth century, I remain deeply interested in the Edo period.