Graduate Chair
203 Jaffe Building

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Julie Nelson Davis is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Japanese prints and illustrated books. Here at Penn Davis teaches a wide range of courses on East Asian art and material culture in the greater global context. After receiving her BA from Reed College, Davis completed her M.A. and Ph.D from the University of Washington and studied at Gakushūin University in Tokyo. She is author of Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty (Reaktion Books, 2007; second edition, 2021), Partners in Print: Artistic Collaboration and the Ukiyo-e Market (University of Hawai’i Press, 2015), and Picturing the Floating World: Ukiyo-e in Context (University of Hawai’i Press, 2021). Davis was recently a guest curator for the Freer and Sackler Galleries for an exhibition on Utamaro (2017) and is preparing an exhibition of Japanese illustrated books in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania opening in January 2022. She is currently at work on two books, one concerning copying and forgery in ukiyo-e and the second on early modern Japanese illustrated books.

Professor Davis has held the Abe Yoshishige Fellowship at Gakushūin University and the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellowship at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures. Her research has been further supported by the Weiler Family Dean’s Leave, the University Research Foundation, the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies, the Wolf Humanities Center, and the Center for East Asian Studies, among others. Davis received the Trustees' Council of Penn Women's 25th Anniversary Award for Excellence in Advising in 2012. In 2016-2017 Davis was a Senior Research Fellow at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian. Davis was the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies Visiting Professor in 2014, Ishibashi Visiting Professor at Heidelberg University in 2019, and is on the faculty of the Rare Book School of the University of Virginia (2019 to present). She was also the founding Director of the Penn Forum on Japan from 2015 to 2020. Davis is currently serving as the Editor-in-Chief for

Click HERE for a recording of "Rare Books: How a Met-worthy Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books Landed at Penn." This talk was recorded live on November 12, 2020. The program was co-sponsored by the Penn Libraries, Penn Alumni Education, and Penn Alumni Travel as part of the Global Discovery Series. 

Research Interests

Professor Davis’s research focuses on Ukiyo-e, the “images of the floating world,” and the arts of the Tokugawa period (1615-1868). Her work has confronted issues of artistic identity, gender, and collaboration in this vibrant field of production, and she has further expanded her research interests to include illustrated books made in the Tokugawa period.

Professor Davis is the co-founder, with her colleague Dr. Linda Chance of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, of the Penn Faculty Working Group for Reading Asian Manuscripts (RAMS), in support of the study of premodern Japanese orthography (hentaigana and kuzushiji). Davis and Chance have organized several workshops to teach the art of reading premodern Japanese script with colleague Dr. Laura Moretti from the University of Cambridge. For an article about their project, see “Japan-RAMS Scholars at Penn ‘Cracking Code’ of Early Modern Japanese Manuscripts."

Davis also supervised the online exhibition and catalogue for the Pulverer Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books the Freer/Sackler, the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art. For more on this project, see: For the online catalogue, see:

Selected Publications

Previous publications include Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty (Reaktion Books and the University of Hawai’i Press, 2007; second edition, 2021); Partners in Print: Artistic Collaboration and the Ukiyo-e Market (University of Hawai’i Press, 2015), and Picturing the Floating World: Ukiyo-e in Context (University of Hawai’i Press, 2021). Articles and essays include a study of the influential ukiyo-e publisher, Tsutaya Jûzaburô in Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings, 1680 – 1860 (Asia Society, 2008), an analysis of a painting by Teisai Hokuba in the Japanese art history journal, Kokka (2007), an overview essay on Utamaro and his contemporaries in The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints (Hotei Books, 2005), an article on Utamaro and the status of the ukiyo-e artist in the anthology The Artist as Professional in Japan (Stanford University Press, 2004), among others. 

Special projects at Penn have included co-curating "Dramatic Impressions: Japanese Theatre Prints from the Gilbert Luber Collection" at the Arthur Ross Gallery in 2006, site seminars at the Venice Biennale, and others. Professor Davis worked with a group of graduate and undergraduate students on the exhibition, "A Sense of Place: Modern Japanese Prints," held at Ross Gallery April 9 through June 21, 2015, featuring works selected from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, and private collections. Davis is also working with students on online catalogues of Japanese prints and illustrated books in the Kislak Center here at Penn.

Courses Taught

ARTH 102: World Art: 1400-Now with André Dombrowski

ARTH 103 & EALC 013: East Asian Arts and Civilizations

ARTH 213/613 & EALC 157: Arts of Japan

ARTH 258/658: Early Modern Japanese Arts and the City of Edo

ARTH 290/690 & FILM 223: Post-war Japanese Cinema and Visual Culture

ARTH 301: Undergraduate Seminar in East Asian Art (topics vary)

ARTH 313: Contemporary Art in East Asia and the World

ARTH 413: 20th-century Arts in China and Japan

ARTH 513: Beyond the Great Wave: Ukiyo-e

ARTH 511: Proseminar in East Asian Art (topics vary)

ARTH 713: Graduate Seminar in East Asian Art (topics vary)


Field of Study