Tomoko L. Kitagawa is a writer and historian of mathematics.
She received her B.Sc. degree in mathematics and life sciences with a minor in political science from the University of British Columbia and earned a Ph.D. from Princeton University, where she specialized in pre-modern Japanese history and religion and the history of science in East Asia. She went on to teach history at Harvard University.
Prior to her appointment at Harvard, she worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations. There, she learned about the importance of history education in the context of international relations; her work experience inspired her to create unique history courses that reflected her views on cultural diplomacy.
Among the courses she offered at Harvard, “Lady Samurai in Medieval Japan” and “Kyoto: The Diplomacy, 1542-1642” were particularly well-received. Her strong commitment to teaching was recognized by the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard, and she was cited as one of the favourite professors at Harvard by the class of 2012.
Her first book, published in Japan in 2012, introduced the content of her Harvard history classes, and become a national bestseller. She was selected as one of the 100 most influential people in Japan and one of the 100 most amazing Japanese women. Her work was also recognized by the Japanese Cabinet Office; she received a thank you letter praising her “passion without borders” from the Minister of State for Special Missions.
She frequently participates in international and public meetings as a speech writer and public lecturer. She delivered a TEDx talk hosted by the World Bank group, gave a keynote speech at the World Heritage Learning Summit, and presented history at the World Government Summit held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On International Women's Day in 2017, she gave a lecture at an event held by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. She also works as an occasional broadcaster, appearing on television and online news programmes as well as a historical documentary. In 2017, a documentary covering her life and career thus far was filmed in India, Japan, and the United States and was broadcast in Japan.
While publishing four more books in Japan, she has also continued her academic work at various institutions in the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and South Africa.* She has studied the premodern epistolary cultures and gender, and experimented with various techniques related to digital humanities for scholarly presentations. Her current research concerns the spread of mathematical ideas during the seventeenth century.
* Special thanks to the faculty members of the following academic institutions for hosting and supporting her research: the Needham Research Institute (2012–14), the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences (2013–14), Wolfson College Cambridge (2014), the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics (2015 and 2020), the University of California, Berkeley (2016–17), the University of Pretoria (2019), and the University of Oxford (2018-).