Blog Post

A History in Photographs: Introduction

A History in Photographs: Introduction

HASTAC 2014-15!  I am here primarily to blog about my participation in launching a collaborative, interdisciplinary, international public history project at the University of California, Santa Cruz, that emphasizes a hands-on approach to undergraduate research and content production.

The Gail Project: an Okinawan-American Dialogue, explores the founding years of the American military occupation of Okinawa, and is inspired by a collection of photos taken in Okinawa in 1952 by an American Army Captain: Charles Eugene Gail.  The photos were generously donated to Special Collections at McHenry Library by Charles' daughter, Geri Gail, and have since been made available for student research

.Team members at their favorite re-photography find: a small Okinawan shrine hidden in the foliage behind Futenma Air Base

Our project is comprised of several elements, including a digital archive of Gail’s photos and declassified documents regarding the U.S. military occupation of Okinawa, the collection of both Okinawan and American oral histories, re-photography, an anticipated traveling exhibition of the photos (2016), and ultimately a publication of the collection.

The project is facilitated by Associate Professor Alan Christy, Shelby Graham (Artistic Director), and Tosh Tanaka (Media Director), but remains heavily student-driven. While the seminar that initiated the project was a history class in name, students from all majors were encouraged to enroll and utilize their myriad skills.  This includes Japanese language students who have worked on transcription and translation, art majors who designed both the logo and website (, students working alongside faculty to build the website, students interested in archival research and digital archiving with platforms such as Omeka, as well as politics and human biology majors.

Six team members, including myself, recently traveled to Okinawa to work in the prefectural archives, establish connections with several local government officials, begin the oral history and re-photography elements, visit several museums and art galleries, and to simply experience the place that we previously knew only through photos and text.  We believe “experiential learning” is an important aspect of studying the world and that travel to those places of study can hugely influence the way that students think and understand them.  During our trip we utilized social media, such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, to provide live event and photo updates to our followers and friends back home.  These, too, were run by students who are getting first-hand experience in running nearly every aspect of large collaborative research project.  And with the beginning of the new school year, several alums (again, including myself) are helping to usher in a new group of eager students to commandeer the project.

                                        Team members under the guise of a Gajimaru at Seifa Utaki, one of the most sacred sites on Okinawa.


My goal in writing this blog and participating in HASTAC is to discuss our failures and successes in launching this complex project, while emphasizing its integration of digital media.  I’m particularly interested in podcasts and digital storytelling, so for starters, here is a link to the first of many multimedia articles discussing different aspects of Okinawan heritage and history with Gail’s photos in mind:

Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you on the digital flip-side!



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