Adrian Johns is a history professor at the University of Chicago. He chairs the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science. He has published a number of works in the field of history of science and history of the book. He earned his PhD from the University of Cambridge in Britain in 1992 and he has taught at the University of Kent at Canterbury, the University of California, San Diego, and the California Institute of Technology. He currently teaches at the University of Chicago.

Published Works

Adrian Johns has written several books including Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates and The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making, and he has one book forthcoming, Death of a Pirate.

The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1998 and it won the Leo Gershoy Award of the American Historical Association, the John Ben Snow Prize of the North American Conference on British Studies, the Louis Gottschalk Prize of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the SHARP Prize for the best work on the history of authorship, reading, and publishing.

Death of a Pirate: British Broadcasting and the Origins of the Information Age was published in 2010. This book focuses on the politics of broadcasting and public authority, which led to a shooting in the 1960s in Britain over a challenge of pirate radio stations to the public broadcasting monopoly of the BBC. The book makes connections to today’s digital culture.

Adrian Johns has written a number of papers on the history of science and the history of the book. In addition, he has podcasts and has written newspaper articles. He is currently working on a book entitled The Intellectual Property Defense Industry, which picks up from the last chapter of Piracy. It discusses and evaluates the emergence of a global industry that is devoted to policing intellectual property.

He is also working on Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo, the story of an American political economist, lawyer, and natural scientist who became an advisor for the Meiji Emperor in Japan for foreign affairs and trade in the late 1870s. Mr. Smith was able to experience first hand the inner workings of the imperial quarters, which few westerners have done before. Adrian Johns will use the private papers of Mr. Smith to tell this story.

He has several other books in the works as well as papers for American Philosophical Society, World Intellectual Property Organization Journal, Paper of the Bibliographical Society of America, Anthropological Quarterly, American Historical Review, and more.


Adrian Johns is a recipient of the NEH Fellowship for 2020, which is awarded by the National Endowment of the Humanities. He will use this sabbatical fellowship to research the history and sociology of information policing.

In addition, he is a Allan Grant Maclear professor of History, the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, and the College.

He received the ACLS Fellowship in June 2012, the Guggenheim Fellowship in June 2012, and the Laing Prize in May 2012.

He researches and writes about the history of science, intellectual property, printing, books, and reading. He also studies media, radio, and British culture and society.

Other Projects

Censorship, Information Control, and Information Revolutions: Along with Ada Palmer and Cory Doctorow, this project investigates the efforts to control digital information today as it is similar to efforts to control the printing press in the beginning. Using the evidence from the past, they will examine the digital revolution so that they can create policies that avoid repeating past mistakes.

In addition, he taught a course on it in autumn of 2018 where experts came to the campus to work on the print and digital revolutions and discuss research. They also shared the classes on the Internet so that they could create an international public conversation.

Adrian Johns