Jonas Ruegg

Jonas Ruegg

Ph.D. Candidate in HEAL/Japan
A man with short brown hair, wearing glasses and a navy blue windbreaker, smiles in front of a background of water with a shoreline in the distance


Oceans cover 71% of our planet’s surface, yet we tend to treat these enormous ecosystems as spaces without history. As a historian of Japan’s turbulent 19th century, I explore ways to understand the archipelago's modern history as embedded in the fluid environment of the Pacific world.

My dissertation on “The Kuroshio Frontier: Business, State, and Environment in the Making of the Japanese Empire” is a maritime history that examines the cultural and economic transitions that accompanied Japan’s expansion to the Pacific in the nineteenth century. The Tokugawa shogunate’s colonization of the Ogasawara or “Bonin” Islands in the 1860s, on which I have published in Cross-Currents in 2017, was a turning point in the way Japanese leaders positioned themselves within the fluid geopolitics of the Pacific World in the mid-century. A more theoretical piece, “Currents and Oceanic Geographies of Japan’s Unending Frontier,” appearing in The Journal of Pacific History in 2021, locates the cultural and economic transformations of Japan’s pivot to the Pacific on a longer trajectory that carries through to the deep sea explorations of the twenty-first century.

I have also published in English, Japanese, and German on book history, history of science, 19th century Orientalism, as well as the cultural history of the Romansh language of Switzerland.

Originally from Switzerland, I gained my B.A. from the University of Zurich before moving to the United States to pursue my graduate studies, first in Harvard’s M.A. program “Regional Studies – East Asia,” and later in the PhD program “History and East Asian Languages.”




2018 Spring: Societies of the World 43: Japan’s Samurai Revolution – Harvard College. Head instructor: David L. Howell.

2020 Fall: Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies – Concentration in East Asian Studies, Harvard College. Assistant to: Melissa McCormick.

2021 Spring: HIST E-1843: East Asian Environments. – Harvard Extension School. Head instructor: Ian J. Miller.


“Migrants of the Kuroshio Frontier” in: Ian Miller, Nadin Hée and Stefan Hübner, Oceanic Japan, University of Hawaii Press, 2022, forthcoming in 2022.

Currents and Oceanic Geographies of Japan’s Unending Frontier,” The Journal of Pacific History 56 (3), 2021, pp. 1–24.

Review of: Felix Lüttge, Auf den Spuren des Wals. Geographien des Lebens im 19. Jahrhundert,“ in: H-Soz-Kult, Aug. 23, 2021.

小笠原と新しい植物の導入 [Introduction of New Plant Species via the Bonin Islands]” in: 洋学史研究事典 [Historical Encyclopedia of Western Studies], Tokyo: Shibunkaku Shuppan, forthcoming in September 2021

幕末・明治:19世紀ジュネーヴに於ける日本研究 [Bakumatsu, Meiji: Japanese Studies in Geneva in the 19th Century]” in: Ōkawa S. and Okamura T. (eds.) 国際都市ジュネーヴ:宗教、思想、政治、経済 [The International City of Geneva: Religion, Thought, Politics and Economy]. Kyoto: Shōwadō, 2018: pp. 62–70.

"Mapping the Forgotten Colony: The Ogasawara Islands and the Tokugawa Pivot to the Pacific in: Cross-Currents 3/2017, pp. 108-157.

"Aimé Humbert: Wertvorstellungen eines Bourgeois und das Japan der Bakumatsu-Zeit" [Aimé Humbert, Value Concepts of a Bourgeois and Bakumatsu Japan], in: Asiatische Studien / Etudes Asiatiques 1/2015, pp. 47–71.

"Challenges of Japanese Studies in 19th century Europe", in: Kyôritsu Joshi Daigaku sôgô bunka kenkyû kiyô [Bulletin of the center for humanities, Kyôritsu Women's University], 1/2015, p. 153–176.


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