Ikuko Asaka

Profile picture for Ikuko Asaka

Contact Information

419C Greg Hall
810 S. Wright St.
M/C 466
Urbana, IL 61801

Associate Professor


I am a historian of the United States with an emphasis on the nineteenth century, imperialism, race, gender, and sexuality. Trained in U.S. and Japanese institutions, I have always taken comparative and transnational approaches in my study of history. 

Research Interests

Nineteenth-century U.S. empire; overseas expansion; racialized geograhy and labor; gender and sexuality; Pacific history 

Research Description

My first book, Tropical Freedom: Climate, Settler Colonialism, and Black Exclusion in the Age of Emancipation (Duke, 2017), argues that during the late eighteenth and mid nineteenth centuries British and American expansionists and free black activists produced different imaginings of an Atlantic world that variously and often contrastingly mapped black freedom within its geographic bounds and that these conflicting geographies of race and freedom became inseparably intertwined with U.S. and British North American settler colonial formations.  Importantly, both promoters and protesters of geographic management of race employed tropes of domesticity and intra-racial reproduction as well as climatic idioms born of the centuries-long development of the plantation economies in the Americas. These languages not only underpinned legal, political, and ideological initiatives to exclude free blacks from settler colonial privileges but also suffused free black politics against them.   

I am currently working on two projects: tracing the origins of U.S. insular imperialism spanning the Pacific and Caribbean and investigating the impact of U.S. expansion into East Asia on domestic racial formations and on the development of Japanese racial identity. 


PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Gender and Women's History Program, 2010

MA, Doshisha University, American Studies

BA, Doshisha University, Political Science

Courses Taught

HIST275 African American History to 1877
HIST285 History of Gender in the United States
HIST385 Transnational Sexualities
HIST482 Slavery in the United States
HIST570 Race, Gender, and Sexuality in North American Colonialisms

Honors & Awards

Lincoln Excellence for Assistant Professors Award, 2016-18
American Council of Learned Societies, New Faculty Fellowship, Women's and Gender Studies, Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey, 2012-13

Recent Publications


Tropical Freedom: Climate, Settler Colonialism, and Black Exclusion in the Age of Emancipation. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017


“Lucretia Mott and the Underground Railroad: The Transatlantic World of a Radical American Woman.” Journal of the Early Republic Volume 38, no 4 (Winter 2018): 613-642

“Different Tales of John Glasgow: John Brown’s Evolution to Slave Life in Georgia.” Journal of Black Studies 49, no. 3 (April 2018): 212-234

“‘Colored Men of the East’: African Americans and the Instability of Race in US-Japan Relations.” American Quarterly 66, no. 4 (December 2014): 971-997    

“‘Our Brethren in the West Indies’: Self Emancipated People in Canada and the Antebellum Politics of Diaspora and Empire.” Journal of African American History 97, no.3 (Summer 2012): 219-239   


“African-American Migration and the Climatic Language of Anglophone Settler Colonialism.” In Crossing Empires: Taking U.S. History into Transimperial Terrain, edited by Kristin Hoganson and Jay Sexton. Durham: Duke University Press (forthcoming)  

“Exiles in America: Canadian Anti-Black Racism and the Meaning of Nation in the Age of the 1848 Revolutions.” In Race and Nation in the Age of Emancipations, ed. Whitney Nell Stewart and John Garrison Marks, 53-68. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2018.