What They Learned: Jonathan Sudo ’21

The history and East Asian languages and cultures double major analyzed the dynamics of Japan as an imperial power in the interwar period.

Jonathan Sudo used his two theses to investigate Japan’s standings in a global economy as a non-white, Asian industrializing power. Sudo conducted much of his research on Japan’s relationship with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the work of Nitobe Inazō, pre-war Japan’s most famous internationalist. He found interest in the ambiguities of Japan’s identity and the conflicts that it manifested in the modern world. He also found in his research connections to Haverford. “One of the key actors in Japan’s relationship with the ILO was Ayusawa Iwao, a Quaker and Haverford graduate whose personal correspondences are contained in Special Collections,” he said. “Nitobe Inazō was also a Quaker and initially converted to Christianity while attending Sapporo Agricultural College, an institution founded by my ancestor, William Smith Clark.”

Sudo’s history thesis, “Internationalizing Labor Relations: Japan, the ILO, and the Post-Versailles International Order, 1919-1938,” categorizes Japan as both an imperial power and a still-developing industrial economy during the interwar period. Sudo says this unique position informed Japan’s participation in the International Labor Organization. 

“The contradiction between its formal status and its economic reality left Japan particularly vulnerable to the organization’s attempts to internationally standardize working conditions, both providing an opportunity for nascent Japanese unions to appeal to the ILO to intervene on their side against the state and mandating the government to vigorously engage with it in order to forestall international pressure.” 

His EALC thesis, “The Limits of Internationalism: Cosmopolitanism and Patriotism in the Works of Nitobe Inazō,” examines the work of Nitobe Inazō. Nitobe served as an Under-Secretary-General of the League of Nations and wrote Bushido: The Soul of Japan, a widely influential book on Japanese culture. To Sudo, understanding the dynamics of Japan’s relationship with the West was crucial to understanding Nitobe’s work as an internationalist. “I argue that Nitobe’s work was consistently and consciously aimed at addressing these tensions, and trace how as Japan’s global position evolved, so too did Nitobe’s activities as an internationalist,” he said. 

Sudo worked with Professors Suengyop Shin and Bethel Saler on his history thesis. Professor Hank Glassman assisted him with his EALC thesis. 

“Largely for both of my theses, I formulated my topic, conducted research, and articulated a conclusion based on that research more or less independently, but my advisors were very valuable in helping me hone my writing and clarify my argument.”

What did you learn from working on your thesis? 

Other than the historical facts I uncovered as part of my research, I mainly learned two lessons from my thesis projects. First, researching and writing an extensive historical paper is not as difficult as I feared it would be. Even with the annoyance of translating documents in pre-war Japanese, at no point during my thesis project did I feel overwhelmed or directionless. As long as you manage your time moderately well, writing a 100-plus page paper with hundreds of footnotes is very doable. The second lesson is that when working on a project, it will usually turn out very differently than how you initially planned. Comparing what I wrote in thesis proposals with the end result, much of what I initially thought I would focus on ended up being only a minor part of my final draft. That, however, is not a bad thing but usually a good sign that you’re following wherever the evidence leads you rather than dogmatically sticking to a pre-made plan.

What are the implications for your thesis research? 

Historiographically, both of my theses have implications for our understanding of interwar Japan. My research on the ILO reveals the need to think about international and transnational connections in shaping Japanese society during this period. Both as a supranational organization capable of exerting pressure on its member states and as a space for the formation of transnational solidarities along class lines, the ILO was a major influence on the development of Japanese trade unionism. As for my work on Nitobe Inazō, my thesis re-emphasizes the need to consider how social and political circumstances condition intellectual production and works of cross-cultural mediation. 

“What They Learned”is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.