• Professor of Comparative Literature and of East Asian Languages and Civilizations; Victor and William Fung Director, Harvard University Asia Center; Chair, Harvard University Council on Asian Studies; Director, Harvard Global Institute Environmental Humanities Initiative.
  • thornber@fas.harvard.edu
  • http://complit.fas.harvard.edu/people/karen-thornber
  • Harvard University Asia Center | CGIS South S222 | 1730 Cambridge Street | Cambridge, MA 02138

Research interests: World Literature and the literatures and cultures of East Asia and the Indian Ocean Rim; transculturation, postcolonialism, environmental humanities (literature and environment), trauma, medical humanities, global and comparative indigeneities.

Karen Thornber’s primary areas of research and teaching are comparative and world literature, the literatures and cultures of East Asia and the Indian Ocean Rim, and the environmental and medical humanities. Professor Thornber received her A.B. in Comparative Literature from Princeton University in 1996, with minors in East Asian Studies, Japanese Language and Literature, and Romance Languages and Literatures. She received her Ph.D. in 2006 from Harvard’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. Her dissertation – based on extensive fieldwork in vernacular archives in Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan – won the International Convention of Asia Scholars (Leiden) Book Prize for the best dissertation in the field of Asian Studies, the American Comparative Literature Association’s Charles Bernheimer Prize for the best dissertation in the field of Comparative Literature, and the Achilles Fang Prize for the best dissertation in East Asian Humanities at Harvard University.

Professor Thornber’s publications analyze textual production, circulation, consumption, and reconfiguration as key elements of wider cultural and global consciousness. Her first book, Empire of Texts in Motion: Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese Transculturations of Japanese Literature (Harvard Asia Center Publications Program; Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series, 2009), won two major international awards: the 2011 John Whitney Hall Book Prize from the Association for Asian Studies, for the best book on either contemporary or historical topics in any field of the Japanese humanities or social sciences; and the International Comparative Literature Association’s 2010 Anna Balakian Prize, for the best book in the world in the field of Comparative Literature published in the last three years by a scholar under age 40. Empire of Texts in Motion explores interactions among the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese literary worlds in the Japanese empire (1895-1945). It reveals that while actively engaging with Western literatures – the subject of most comparative scholarship on twentieth-century East Asian literatures – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese writers also significantly reconfigured one another’s creative output, forming vibrant spaces of intra-East Asian textual contact. Empire of Texts in Motion demonstrates how this textual contact both affirmed and challenged Japan’s cultural authority, blurring distinctions among resistance, acquiescence, and collaboration and also eroding cultural and national barriers central to the discourse on empire. Professor Thornber’s second book, Ecoambiguity: Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures (University of Michigan Press, 2012) analyzes how literatures from East Asia and other parts of the world depict the ambiguous interactions between people and their biophysical environments. It focuses on creative portrayals of the relationship between damaged ecosystems and discrepancies within and among human attitudes, behaviors, and information vis-à-vis the nonhuman world. Ecoambiguity was awarded Honorable Mention in the American Comparative Literature Association's 2013 Rene Wellek Prize Competition, for the best book in the field of comparative literature in the triennium 2010-2012; Honorable Mention in the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment Book Prize, for the best book-length monograph of scholarly ecocriticism published in the calendar years 2011 and 2012; and the International Convention of Asia Scholars Accolade for the scholarly work in Asian Studies most captivating and accessible to the non-specialist reader published in the calendar years 2011 and 2012.

Professor Thornber’s translation of Tōge Sankichi’s Genbaku shishū (Poems of the Atomic Bomb) was published by the University of Chicago, Center for East Asian Studies in 2012; it received the 2012 William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize in Japanese Literature and Literary Studies. In August 2015, Professor Thornber was invited to read selections from this translation for Empress Michiko of Japan, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings.

Professor Thornber has published or has forthcoming more than sixty articles/book chapters on East Asian literatures and cultures (Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan), as well as diaspora, gender, trauma, translation and transculturation, the environmental and medical humanities, and comparative and world literature. She also has forthcoming a co-edited volume on the poetics of aging in Japan.

Current projects include books on world literature and global health; a global history of leprosy; world climate fiction; and cultural interactions among East Asia and the Indian Ocean Rim (Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia); as well as co-edited special issues of Humanities (on global indigeneities and environment) and Journal of World Literature (on trans-Asian comparative and world literature). She has just completed a new book Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care.

Professor Thornber has served as Chair of Comparative Literature, Chair of Regional Studies East Asia, Director of Graduate Studies in Comparative Literature, and Director of Graduate Studies in Regional Studies East Asia. In 2016, she was Conference Chair of the 2016 American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting, which with 3,500 speakers was the largest conference ever held at Harvard.

From the Fairbank Blog: 

Humanistic Ecologies and China: New Perspectives on Environmental Health and Climate Change, January 2016

唐丽园教授于普林斯顿大学取得对比文学本科学位,辅修东亚研究、日本语言和文学、罗曼语族语言和文学,随后于哈佛大学完成东亚语言与文明博士学位,现任哈佛大学对比文学和东亚语言与文明教授、哈佛大学亚洲中心主席。出版书籍包括《Empire of Texts in Motion: Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese Transculturations of Japanese Literature》(2009),《Ecoambiguity: Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures》(2012)等。

研究兴趣:世界文学,东亚与印度洋环带区的文学与文化;跨文化,后殖民主义,环境人文学(文学与环境),创伤,医疗人文学,全球与对比本土性。

Books

Empire of Texts in Motion: Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese Transculturations of Japanese Literature (Harvard, 2009)

Ecoambiguity: Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures (Michigan 2012)

Translation

Toge Sankichi and the Genbaku shishu (University of Chicago, Center for East Asian Studies, 2012)

Books in Progress

Global Literature and Health: Moderating Expectations, Negotiating Possibilities

Networking Literatures: East Asia and the Indian Ocean Rim

Inequality, Technology, Culture

Articles and Chapters

"Interventions in Dying: Perspectives on Death-Prolonging and Life-Ending Care" (in progress);

"Incorporating Japanese Literature into the Medical Humanities Curriculum" (in progress);

“Preface: Manchukuo in Transnational Perspective” (in progress);

"Is There Environmental Awareness in China?" (2017);

"Wolf Totem and Nature Writing" (2017);

"World Literature and Health Humanities: Translingual Encounters with Brain Disorders" (2017);

"Comparative Literature, World Literature, and Aisa" (2016);

"Neglected Texts, Trajectories, and Communities: Reshaping World Literature and East Asia" (2016);

"Climate Change and Changing World Literature" (2016);

"Mashal Books as Cultural Mediator: Translating Asian, Middle Eastern, and African Literatures into Urdu in Pakistan" (2016);

"The Many Scripts of the Chinese Scriptworld, the Epic of King Gesar, and World Literature" (2016);

"Why (Not) World Literature: Challenges and Opportunities for the Twenty-First Century" (2016);

"Humanistic Environmental Studies and (Global) Indigeneities" (2016);

"Breaking Discipline, Integrating Literature: Africa-China Relationships Reconsidered" (2016);

"Abusive Medicine: Constructing the Japanese Empire and its Aftermaths in East Asian Literatures" (2016);

"Japanese Literature and Interwar East Asian Modernisms: Reconfiguring the Individual and the City" (2016);

"Environments of Early Chinese and Japanese Literatures" (2016);

"Empire of Texts in Motion: Where in the World is World Literature" (2016);

"Care, Vulnerability, Resilience: Ecologies of HIV/AIDS in Chinese Literature" (2016);

"Global World Literature and the Medical Humanities: An Overview" (2016);

"Ecocriticisms in East Asia and Beyond: Pasts, Presents, Futures" (2016);

"Foreword to Japanese Tales from Times Past" (2015);

"Ishimure Michiko and Global Ecocriticism" (2015);

“Wenhua zhuanyi wangluo he quanqiuxing bijiao: Yazhou, Feizhou, Dayangzhou he Meizhou wenxuezhong de renlei zhongxinzhuyi shengtaiguan he ‘shengtai bendu jumin’” (Transcultural Networks and Global Comparison: Anthropocentric Ecologies and the ‘Ecological Native’ in Literature from Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas) (2015);

"Paradoxes of Conservation and Comparison: Taiwan, Environmental Crises and World Literatures" (2015);

"Japanese Literature and International Environmental Crises" (2014);

“Tính hợp thức, cộng đồng và chủ nghĩa hậu thực dân: nhà văn và văn bản du hành ở Đông Á sau 1945” (Legitimacy, Community, and Postcolonialism: Traveling Writers and Texts in Post-1945 East Asia) (2014);

“Orality, Silence, and Recovery in South African, Cambodian, and Nigerian Literatures” (2014);

"Ecocriticisms in East Asia and Beyond: Pasts, Presents, Futures" (2014);

“Lý thuyết chấn thương” (Trauma Theory) (2014); “Tính liên văn bản hay Cộng đồng di dân” (2014);

"Global World Literature and the Medical Humanities: An Overview" (2014);

"Chinese Literary Landscapes of SARS and HIV/AIDS: On Hubris and Vulnerability" (2014);

"Comparative Literature, World Literature, and Asia" (2014);

"Capitalizing on Contradiction: Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures" (2014);

"Modernist Literary Production in East Asia" (2015);

"Anthropocentric Ecologies and the 'Ecological Native' in Native American, Maori, and Aboriginal Taiwanese Literatures" (2014);

"Chinese Literature and Environmental Crises: Plundering Borderlands North and South" (2014);

"Literature and Environment: New Approaches to Ecocriticism" (2014);

"Alberto Barrera Tyszka, La enfermedad"; “Tính hợp thức, cộng đồng và chủ nghĩa hậu thực dân: nhà văn và văn bản du hành ở Đông Á sau 1945” (Legitimacy, Community, and Postcolonialism: Traveling Writers and Texts in Post-1945 East Asia) (2014);

“Lý thuyết chấn thương” (Trauma Theory) (2014);

“Tính liên văn bản hay Cộng đồng di dân” (Intertextuality or Diaspora) (2014);

"Literature, Asia, and the Anthropocene: Possibilities for Asian Studies and the Environmental Humanities" (2014); "Japanese Literature and International Environmental Crises" (2014);

“Literature and the Environment: Local Approaches to Ecocriticism" (2014);

"Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures: Uncertain Presents and Futures" (2014);

"Rethinking the World in World Literature: East Asia and Literary Contact Nebulae" (2014);

“Hansi shijie wenxue zhong de shijie – Taiwan, Zhongguo dalu, Dongya ji wenxue jiechu xingyun” (Rethinking the World in World Literature: Taiwan, Mainland China, East Asia, and Literary Contact Nebulae) (2014);

"Overwhelming Disease and Nature: New Perspectives on Ariyoshi Sawako and Amitav Ghosh" (2013);

"World Literature and Global Health: Reconfiguring Literature and Medicine" (2013);

"Global Health and World Literature: Translating Silences in Cambodian Writing on Sex Slavery" (2013);

"Afterword: Ecocritical and Literary Futures" (2013);

"Japanese Literature and Environmental Crises" (2013);

"Nature, Humanity, and Uncertain Futures: East Asian Literatures and Environmental Degradation" (2013);

“Shejie wenxue yu shengtai piping: Tanjiu Dongya wenxue zuopinzhong feirenlei de fusuli [World Literature and Ecocriticism: Questioning Nonhuman Resilience in East Asian Literatures]” (2012);

“Dajiang Jiansanlang [Oe Kenzaburo]: quyu, quanqiu he he wenti de shuxiezhe [Oe Kenzaburo: Writing Regional, Global, and Nuclear Problems]" (2012);

"Ishimure Michiko, Literature, and Environmental Ambiguity" (2012);

“Acquiescing to Environmental Degradation: Literary Dynamics of Resignation" (2012);

"Collaborating, Acquiescing, Resisting: Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Transculturation of Japanese Literature" (2012);

"Green Paradoxes: Literature and Environmental Crises in Korea, China, and Japan" (2012);

“1920 nendai no Higashi Ajia bunka kōryū to kantekusutosei” (2011);

"Literature and Environment" (2011);

"Legitimacy and Community: Traveling Writers and Texts in Post-1945 East Asia" (2010);

"Degendering Ecodegradation and Rethinking Ecofeminisms in the Writing of Kurihara Sadako, Sakaki Nanao, and Ichimure Michiko" (2010);

"Responsibility and Japanese Literature of the Atomic Bomb" (2010);

"Ecological Urbanism and East Asian Literatures" (2009);

"Early Twentieth-Century Intra-East Asian Literary Contact Nebulae: Transculturating Censored Japanese Literature in Chinese and Korean Literatures" (2009);

“Ecocriticism and Japanese Literature of the Avant Garde” (2009);

"French Discourse in Chinese, in Chinese Discourse in French – Paradoxes of Chinese Francophone Émigré Writing" (2009);

"Translation and the Borders of Early Twentieth-Century Japanese Literature" (2008);

"Itinerant Clouds, Sooty Trains, and Peripatetic Memories: Travel in Hayashi Fumiko's Ukigumo" (2007);

"Reconfiguring Japanese Literature in Early Twentieth-Century East Asia: The Enpon Boom, the Uchiyama Shoten, and the Growth of Transasian Literary Communities" (2006);

"When the Protagonist is Death: Implicating Text and Reader in Trilogies of Hiroshima and Auschwitz" (2004);

"Literature of the Atomic Bomb" (2001).

Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies