Michael Thornton

Michael Thornton's picture
Postdoctoral Associate in East Asian Studies (July 2020 - June 2022)
230 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511
Areas of interest : 
Early-Modern and Modern Japanese Urban History

Michael Thornton is a historian of early-modern and modern Japan, with a particular interest in urban history. In his dissertation, “Settling Sapporo: City and State in the Global Nineteenth Century,” he analyzed the planning and construction of Sapporo across the nineteenth century. He argued that the city was built as a settler-colonial capital, playing an instrumental role in the Japanese colonization of Hokkaido. The city was in turn heavily shaped by its colonial position and functions. More broadly, Thornton is interested in the transformation of Japanese cities between the Tokugawa and Meiji periods, including the development of new forms of social and political organization and municipal administration, with an eye to lessons that the rest of the world might learn from one of the planet’s most urbanized societies. 

Thornton grew up in Kobe and Tokyo before attending Yale, where he received a BA in History in 2010. After brief stints in Germany and back in Japan he entered the PhD program in History at Harvard, from which he graduated in May 2018.


HIST 030, EAST 030


Four centuries of Japan’s history explored through the many incarnations, destructions, and rebirths of its foremost city. Focus on the solutions found by Tokyo’s residents to the material and social challenges of concentrating such a large population in one place. Tensions between continuity and impermanence, authenticity and modernity, and social order and the culture of play.

Term: Spring 2022
Day/Time: T,Th 1:00 PM - 2:15 PM