Dr David R Ambaras

Picture of Dr David R Ambaras

Associate Professor


David Ambaras is Associate Professor of History at North Carolina State University, where he has taught since 1998.  His research explores the social history of Japan and its empire, particularly through a focus on transgression and marginality.  In his forthcoming book, Japan's Imperial Underworlds: Intimate Encounters at the Borders of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2018), he excavates long-forgotten histories of child trafficking, marriage migration, travel and adventure writing, and piracy in the spaces between Japan and China from the 1860s to the 1930s. He argues that transgressive intimacies between Japanese and Chinese fundamentally shaped the territorial borders and imaginative geographies that defined Japan's imperial world and continue to inform present-day views of China.

His first book, Bad Youth: Juvenile Delinquency and the Politics of Everyday Life in Modern Japan (University of California Press, 2006), shows how the policing of urban youth constituted a central arena for the development of new state structures and new forms of disciplinary power, the articulation of new class, gender, and family relations, and the regulation of popular culture during the years 1895 to 1945. He has also published articles in venues including The Journal of Asian Studies and The Journal of Japanese Studies. Dr. Ambaras is a recipient of fellowships from the National Humanities Center and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Dr. Ambaras is co-founder of and NCSU representative to the Triangle Center for Japanese Studies

Teaching and Research Interests

Modern Japan and its empire; social history of imperialism and colonialism; spatial history and mobilities; urban history; deviance and social problems; gender.


Collaborative research projects: 

  • Bodies and Structures: Deep-mapping the Spaces of Japanese History, 2016-2020 (projected). Co-organizer with Prof. Kate McDonald (History, UC Santa Barbara). 
  • Comprehensive Research Project on Mobility and Social Integration in Twentieth-Century East Asia, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (project director: Shinzo Araragi, Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan), 2013-2018. 



Articles and chapters:
  • “Dans le piège du fourmilion: Japonaises et Fujianais en marge de l' Empire et de la Nation” [In the Antlion’s Pit: Japanese Women and Fujianese Men at the Margins of Empire and Nation], Vingtième siècle, revue d’histoire 120 (octobre-décembre 2013)  
  • “Topographies of Distress: Tokyo, c. 1930,” in Noir Urbanisms: Dystopic Images of the Modern City, ed. Gyan Prakash (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 187-217. Finalist for the inaugural SECAAS Article Prize, Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies
  • “Juvenile Delinquency and the National Defense State: Policing Young Workers in Wartime Japan, 1937-45,” The Journal of Asian Studies63, no. 1 (2004): 31-60. Also reprinted in Imperial Japan and the World, 1931-1945, ed. Anthony Best (London: Routledge, 2010)
  • “Social Knowledge, Cultural Capital, and the New Middle Class in Japan, 1895-1912,” The Journal of Japanese Studies 24, no. 1 (1998): 1-33. Also reprinted in Gender and Japanese Society: Critical Concepts, ed. Dolores Martinez (Routledge, 2013)

Graduate Advising

Dr. Ambaras works with students in modern Japanese, East Asian, and world history, and in the history of imperialism and colonialism.


Director, History Department Undergraduate Honors Program


  • Ph. D. in History from Princeton University, 1999
  • M. A. in History from Princeton University, 1995
  • M. A. in Area Studies from The University of Tokyo, 1991
  • License in Japanese Language and Literature from Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, 1986
  • B. A. in Religion from Columbia University, 1984