Profile: Jonathan van Harmelen

Jonathan van Harmelen is a PhD History Candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz. A specialist in 20th century U.S. history, his dissertation focuses on the role of the United States Congress in the incarnation of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. As a scholar, he writes frequently about new trends in Japanese American history and the connections of the incarceration policy to global history. His work has appeared in several academic journals, including the Journal of Transnational American Studies and Southern California Quarterly. Additionally, he is a columnist for the Japanese American National Museum’s blog Discover Nikkei, and a contributor to several Asian American news outlets.

For his dissertation, van Harmelen argues that Congress served as a driving force behind the incarceration and resettlement of Japanese Americans. In ways similar to the Canadian Parliament, the U.S. Congress was influenced by regional politics towards supporting forced removal of Nikkei communities from the West Coast. Likewise, van Harmelen’s research into global media portrayals of Nikkei incarceration asserts that studies of Nikkei incarceration should go beyond national boundaries. As such, Jonathan’s work on the Japanese American incarceration made him a perfect candidate for the Spring 2023 PWFC residency – a program that aims to bring together scholars and artists of varied backgrounds together.

From January to April 2023, Jonathan resided in Victoria and collaborated with his fellow scholars in residents and conducted extensive archival research in Victoria and Vancouver. During his residency, Jonathan authored a paper that explores the transnational media views of Japanese incarceration during the war – asking questions like “how did different media outlets portray the incarceration of Nikkei communities,” and “how did the media outlets’ content shift over time?”

In addition to his academic work, Jonathan participated in community outreach, something central to PWFC’s engagement and dissemination. While in Victoria, he put his interest and skills in journalism to action when he wrote an article in the Times Colonist about Toyo Takata, a Japanese Canadian journalist who was born in Victoria. The article discusses Takata’s “role in documenting the long history of Canada’s Japanese Canadian community and his relationship to Victoria.” Jonathan wrote this article as a part of his ongoing interest to connect the Nikkei experience with broader histories and because it aligns with his interests in how “journalism shapes, not just public opinion, but shapes discourse and narratives on history.”

Jonathan was “really excited” to be a part of the residency program and describes it as “one-of-a-kind,” because of “the fact that this program – bringing residents of all different interests and backgrounds from all around the world to one place to come together as a part of this universal interest in the Nikkei experience – really doesn’t exist in academia.” Jonathan continues, statingthat the program “did a wonderful job of making everyone feel welcome and included, and fostered a collaborative community where we’re all working together and all bounce ideas off of each other with different perspectives on how to do research.” Jonathan organized the Winter Cohort’s bid for the panel in New Orleans and will be reuniting with his cohort-mates in Louisiana.

Looking ahead, Jonathan is working on finishing his PhD and hopes to become a professor at a university. He also plans on writing more about Nikkei history for various news outlets. PWFC is fortunate to have Jonathan continue working with the project in the coming years as an advisor and as part of the Archives Cluster.

Jonathan’s working paper, “A Global Story – Media Accounts of Nikkei Incarceration in the Anglophone World” will be available to read on our website.

This article was written by Kiri H. Powell, from an interview with Jonathan van Harmelen.