Oleg Benesch
Lecturer in East Asian History



BA (Alaska Fairbanks), MA (Reitaku), PhD (British Columbia)

Oleg Benesch is Lecturer in East Asian History, specializing in the history of early modern and modern Japan and China. Before arriving at the University of York, Oleg was Past & Present Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London.  He has spent almost six years living and researching in Japan, including two years at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

Oleg’s publications and teaching interests cover a variety of fields, including Japanese intellectual, religious, and social history, Chinese intellectual history, as well as the transnational history of modern East Asia. He has presented his research findings at academic conferences and invited lectures throughout East Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia. Oleg’s recent monograph, Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan, was published by Oxford University Press in 2014.  He is a co-author of the 2015 book, Civilizing Emotions: Concepts in Nineteenth-Century Asia and Europe, also published by Oxford University Press.

For further information about Oleg and his research, please see his website olegbenesch.com.





Oleg’s recent monograph, Inventing the Way of the Samurai:Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan, explores the historical development of the ostensibly traditional Japanese ethic of bushido (‘the way of the samurai’). This book re-examines bushido as a modern invented tradition that developed from a search for a ‘national’ identity in late nineteenth-century Japan. Bushido was subsequently appropriated for a wide variety of official and private purposes in the early twentieth century, becoming a key pillar supporting the ideological structure of the imperial state. This book also considers the reasons behind the revival of bushido in the postwar era, when comparable nationalistic concepts from the imperial period remain largely forgotten or ignored.

Oleg’s research focuses on the historical exchange and development of ideas and concepts across societies, with a focus on interactions between Japan, China, and the West. Oleg’s educational backgrounds in both history and philosophy inform his major research interests, as well as his interest in interdisciplinary work.  His work often takes a comparative approach, examining themes including nationalism, identity, nostalgia, masculinity, civility, memory, and authenticity. Oleg welcomes inquiries from potential PhD students with related interests.

Current projects

Building on his previous work, Oleg is currently working on a long-term research project that examines the influence perceptions of militarism and martial identity have had on China-Japan relations.  The relationship between China and Japan is often described as being as ‘close as lips and teeth’, and has been marked by cultural and economic interactions, but also exploitation and conflict. The popular notion that Japan is an especially martial country predates the conflicts of the twentieth century, and in China, Japan's supposed 'martial spirit' was credited with driving Japan's successful modernization, before being blamed for Japanese militarism and the atrocities of the 1930s and 1940s.  In this context, this research project explores the evolution of Chinese views of Japan over the past 150 years.

Oleg is also engaged in an ongoing research project with Prof Ran Zwigenberg of Pennsylvania State University, focusing on the modern history of Japanese castles.  From Tokyo to distant rural towns, castles have given shape to the majority of Japanese cities throughout their history.  Whether they have become UNESCO World Heritage sites, religious centres or public parks, Japan's castles are among the most important landmarks and important components of local, regional and even national identity.  Typically on raised land in the heart of cities and towns, castles represent some of the most important and valuable space in the country.  The great importance of Japan's castles, in political, economic and symbolic terms, has made them the sites of fierce contention well into the twenty-first century.  In spite of this, and the ample scholarship on castles' early history, their fate in the modern period, when most castles were destroyed before being restored or rebuilt, remains largely unexamined.


Selected publications

  • With Helge Jordheim, Margrit Pernau et al. Civilizing Emotions: Concepts in Nineteenth-Century Asia and Europe.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • "The Samurai Next Door: Chinese Examinations of the Japanese Martial Spirit."  Extrême-Orient Extrême-Occident 38 (Jan. 2015): 129-168
  • Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • “National Consciousness and the Evolution of the Civil/Martial Binary in East Asia.” Taiwan Journal of East Asian Studies 8, no. 1 (2011): 129-171.
  • “Samurai Thought.” In Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook, edited by James W. Heisig, Thomas P. Kasulis, and John C. Maraldo, 1103-1114. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2011.
  • “Gunkoku shugi teki bushidō he no teikō: heiwa wo mokuteki shita Nitobe to Hiroike no gyōseki.” In Hiroike Chikurō no shisō to gyōseki, edited by Iwasa Nobumichi, 71-88. Kashiwa: Morarojī kenkyūjo, 2011.
  • “Wang Yangming and Bushidō: Japanese Nativization and its Influences in Modern China.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 36, no. 3 (2009): 439-454.




The Last Days of the Samurai and the Invention of Modern Japan, 1853-1912

Japan since 1945: Beyond Bomb, Boom and Bubble


Contact details

Dr Oleg Benesch
Vanbrugh College V/A/212
Department of History
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: Internal 3602, External (01904) 323602