Karen Thornber, PhD

Harry Tuchman Levin Professor in Literature and Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
Professor Karen L. Thornber is Harry Tuchman Levin Professor in Literature and Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, where she also serves as acting director (fall 2020) of the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies. Her research and teaching focus on the medical/health humanities, environmental humanities, gender, empire, inequality, indigeneities, transculturation, and trauma as these relate to comparative literature, world literatures, and the literatures and cultures of East Asia (Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan), as well as the literatures and cultures of the Indian Ocean Rim (Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia), and more recently the Pacific Rim. Having conducted extensive fieldwork in vernacular archives across East Asia, Thornber works in more than a dozen European, East Asian, and South Asian languages. Thornber is author of three major scholarly monographs. The most recent is Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care (Brill 2020), which draws on literature from 20 languages and more than four dozen nations across six continents. Her two previous major scholarly monographs both won multiple international awards: Ecoambiguity: Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures (Michigan 2012) and Empire of Texts in Motion: Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese Transculturations of Japanese Literature (Harvard 2009). Thornber has also published several co-edited volumes and more than 70 articles and book chapters. She additionally has served in a variety of leadership roles at Harvard, including as Victor and William Fung Director of the Harvard University Asia Center, Chair of Comparative Literature, and Chair of Regional Studies East Asia.


  • PhD Harvard University