Office Hour: Professor Naoko Shibusawa


Welcome to Office Hour, where Natasha Bluth, a Brown University Junior concentrating International relations and Slavic studies interviews a different professor each week. You are cordially invited to delve into Brown’s sixty-three departments and meet the crème de la crème of academicians.

“We study the past in order to imagine a better future.” – Professor Naoko Shibusawa, History Department & American Studies Department

Courses teaching this semester: HIST1900 American Empire Since 1890, AMST1904V Decolonizing Minds: A People’s History of the World

On a bitter cold Monday morning, the well-heated Peter Green House extends a warm welcome. The building is home to Brown’s history department and to Professor Naoko Shibusawa, a spitfire professor whose head cold doesn’t fail to repress her enthusiasm to answer questions about her life in academia.

In 2004, after four years at the University of Hawaii, Professor Shibusawa was offered a position at Brown University – she gasps when she realizes it is her tenth year. She is a professor of History and American Studies, as well as a prime example that time flies when you’re having fun.

While she concentrates in twentieth century history, she finds earlier history equally, if not more, fascinating due to its “mind-blowing paradigm shifts.” She describes the 1581 Bünting cloverleaf world map that positions Jerusalem in the center – an example from one of her classes, the American Empire Since 1890.

History is important, Professor Shibusawa explains, because it is “the study of the past in order to imagine a better future.” The present, she continues, “Can’t break out of the modernist paradigm,” embedded in place today.

She finally falls silent when asked about her favorite class. Her honest and oblique answer: “The students. I like that I get to give students the tools to teach history, but they bring me back tools.” She often incorporates students’ research into lectures.

As a first-year and concentration advisor, Professor Shibusawa is constantly inspired by her advisees’ academic curiosity. She cites a fellow history professor and colleague, Robert Self, who once said, “It’s cool to be intellectual at Brown.” Not unaware of the social atmosphere on college hill, she has noticed that partying and studying are not, in fact, separate realms, but rather merge to foster an all-encompassing intellectual atmosphere among the student body.

In regards to her professorship, Shibusawa acknowledges that she doesn’t have answers for everything. She hopes, however, that her courses are thought provoking. “It’s a privilege,” she says, “to talk and study about things you like and are interested in,” concluding the interview with a smile.

Questions, comments, concerns? Email Natasha Bluth at for more information. 


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