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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

East Asian Studies
Keidanren Professor of Japanese Studies
Email address: 
+44 (0)1223 335430
Fellow of: 
Trinity College
Director of Studies at: 
Trinity College
Photo by Danish Saroee for SCAS

Brought up in Kalmar, Sweden, where he used a thirteenth century castle as his playground, Mickey Adolphson has been a historian as long as he can remember. After graduating from high school in the late (and joyful) 1970s, he went to Lund's University, where he graduated with a B.A. in History, Museum and Cultural Studies in 1984. A premodernist, he was inspired by the similarities between medieval Europe and Japan to focus his attention on pre-1600 Japan. He spent two years studying Japanese at Stockholm University before receiving a scholarship from the Japanese Education Ministry in 1986. During the next two and a half years he lived in Kyoto and Osaka while studying at Kyoto University under the guidance of Professor Oyama Kyohei. In 1989, he entered Stanford University's Ph.D. program with Professor Jeffrey P. Mass as his mentor. Returning to Kyoto University in the spring of 1992 for dissertation research, he also worked for the Japan Volleyball Association as an interpreter. He resumed at Stanford in the fall of 1993 and finished his dissertation two years later. Adolphson’s first academic appointment was at the University of Oklahoma from 1995 to 1999, after which he moved to Harvard University, where he was assistant and associate professor of Japanese History. In 2008 he joined the faculty at the University of Alberta as Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies, where he served as chair and associate dean. Professor Adolphson is currently Keidanren Professor of Japanese Studies at Cambridge. 

Teaching responsibilities: 

Professor Adolphson teaches a range of courses from a first-year introduction of East Asian Studies and occasionally a first-year text class to advanced seminars on hentai kanbun and Japanese history. 

Supervision information: 

Having supervised graduate students in a range of fields, including premodern and modern Japanese history, premodern literature as well as Buddhism, Professor Adolphson would welcome enquiries from motivated graduate students and young scholars from across the world.

Research interests: 

Professor Adolphson is a broadly trained historian with a strong interest in medieval societies. In fact, he studied medieval societies and religions in southern France at the University of Lund before suddenly being inspired to switch to medieval Japan. Nevertheless, he took with him an interest in Annales history to the Japan field, and so he focuses on a wide variety of topics, ranging from social structures, ideologies, mentalité, religious institutions, legal history, historical documents and international trade. In addition, he has a strong interest in how historical narratives have been and are constructed both in the past and the present. Professor Adolphson’s current project focuses on Sino-Japanese trade in the twelfth century, with a special focus on the import of Chinese copper coins, which eventually led to a monetized economy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. 

Current PhD students

Thomas Booth: Understanding the Causes and Motivations of the Tokusei Protests 1428-1467.
Andrew Fischer: Trusted Turncoats: Loyalty and Lordship in Sixteenth-Century Japan
Polina Serebriakova: Petals of paulownia: sources of aristocratic legitimacy for warrior leaders in Medieval Japan.
Jun Tham: A history of spirit pacification as a mentality and an ideology

Articles, Book Chapters etc

Myōun and the Heike Monastic Influence in Twelfth-Century Japan Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 47/2 pp. 189–223 (2020)
Weighing in on Evidence: Documents and Literary Manuscripts in Early Medieval Japan Alessandro Bausi, Christian Brockmann, Michael Friedrich, Sabine Kienitz (ed.) Manuscripts and Archives: Comparative Views on Record-Keeping pp. 297–318 (2018)
Discourses on Religious Violence in Premodern Japan Religions, Volume 9, Issue 5 (2018)
Review of Matthew Stavros' "Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan's Premodern Capital" The Journal of Asian Studies, 75 pp. 524 - 527 (2016)
Review of Asuka Sango's "The Halo of Golden Light: Imperial Authority and Buddhist Ritual in Heian Japan." The American Historical Review, Volume 121, Issue 3 pp. 922 - 923 (2016)
Violence, Warfare and Buddhism in Early Medieval Japan Quaestiones Medii Aevi Novae, vol. 21: Cultures of War, Liturgy pp. 65 - 89 (2016)
Review of David Spafford's "A Sense of Place: The Political Landscape in Late Medieval Japan." The American Historical Review, Volume 119, Issue 4 pp. 1240 (2014)
The Doshu: Clerics at Work in Early Medieval Monasteries Monumenta Nipponica Volume 67, Issue 2 pp. 263-282 (2012)
The competitive enforcement of property rights in medieval Japan: The role of temples and monasteries Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 71 pp. 660 - 668 (2009)
Social Change and Contained Transformations: Warriors And Merchants in Japan, 1000-1300 Medieval Encounters, Volume 10, Issue 1-3 pp. 309 – 337 (2004)

Featured books




Undergraduate courses taught