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The Day of Remembrance and Japanese American Internment

The Day of Remembrance and Japanese American Internment
Seventy-three years ago today, on February 19, 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the detention of over 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast and putting into motion the massive exercise in collective punishment known as Japanese American internment.

Persons of Japanese ancestry arrive at the Santa Anita Assembly Center from San Pedro.

(Image from the National Archives blog, and captioned: "Persons of Japanese ancestry arrive at the Santa Anita Assembly Center from San Pedro. Evacuees lived at this center at the former Santa Anita race track before being moved inland to relocation centers. Clem Albers, Arcadia, CA, April 5, 1942. Photo No. 210-G-3B-414")

Cities around the country will be commemorating this day as the Day of Remembrance, with events and gatherings dedicated to keeping the memory of this experience alive for future generations. Since the internment experience is the center of my thesis project, I thought I’d take a moment today to share a few of the digital archives of Japanese American internment that have proven especially fruitful for my work:

Another important resource to be aware of when studying the Japanese American internment experience is the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund (CLPEF) Resolution Regarding Terminology, which explains why scholars should avoid historical euphemisms such as "evacuation" and "relocation" in their work.

So what is my project, exactly? I’m using the TEI schema to encode a collection of letters between my great-grandfather, Willis M. Hawley, and Dr. Peter M. Suski, a Japanese American doctor who was interned during WWII. My great-grandfather and Dr. Suski were friends and colleagues in Los Angeles, CA, when Dr. Suski and his family were sent to the Santa Anita Detention Center and, later, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming.

On May 6, 1942, Dr. Suski assigned my great-grandfather power of attorney to manage his personal affairs in his absence. The two men corresponded regularly throughout the war (and beyond) as friends, book collectors, and scholars of the Japanese and Chinese languages. The letters are incredibly dense and are filled with salient nuggets about daily life in the camps, the demographic and social transformation of the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles, and the spread of texts about East Asian languages in the 1940s (another bourgeoning interest of mine). They are also filled with details of my own family history, which has both heightened my investment in the project and has caused me to consider more deeply the affective nature of archival research.

The goal of my project is to create the kind of detailed document structure that will facilitate linking to contextual material in other online sources, as well as to allow connections to be made within the collection and between the documents contained within it. I want to provide “readers” with multiple threads to follow, multiple paths for their own exploration — but guided by my own hand as an expert in the letters.

Further, the process of examining the letters and deciding what kind of interpretive classes should exist, and what subjects and terms should be contained in the taxonomy is itself a form of scholarship that parallels the act of writing a book on the subject. That is, I am identifying, evaluating, and extracting the meaningful segments of the source material and arranging them in such a way that the reader — or viewer, or user, or whomever might open up the project — will be brought to certain conclusions. They will be able to see connections that I’ve identified as well as explore them further — right from within the project.

This, after all, is where my interest in the digital humanities stems from; DH as an extension of the history of the book. I want to understand how the affordances of the digital can alter, enhance, and contribute to the sense-making activities that we engage in when we read printed materials online. I want to explore how and why we create online cultural heritage experiences for learning. And along the way, I hope to make some small contribution to the historiography of the Japanese American experience of internment.

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