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Oviatt Spotlight: CSU Japanese American Digitization Project

Contributed by Steve Kutay

Image from the CSU Japanese American Digitization Project
Call for college students to meet a "desperate need" by serving as group work leaders supporting community activities, arts and recreation, church vacation Bible schools, and boys and girls clubs in either the Gila River or Manzanar Incarceration Camp. See Full Record in the Collection

The National Parks Service has awarded $321,000 to CSUN’s Oviatt Library and twelve other campuses to fund the collaborative CSU Japanese American Digitization Project (CSU JAD). This three-year effort provides for the digitization and online access of approximately 10,000 documents from over 30 archival collections related to Japanese American incarceration during World War II and the resettlement. The online materials provide visual, written and oral testimony regarding citizens and immigrants forced to drop their careers, possessions and communities as domestic detainees of the United States government.

Beyond its historical significance, this project has unique contemporary relevance. Understanding Japanese American history helps us deal with social paranoias involving ethnicity and religion as a result of the September 11th attacks. It is important to sustain a dialog regarding how we treat whole segments of our population based on the ill intentions of a few. This project not only allows us to reflect on our actions during World War II, but provides a moral compass to guide us toward greater cultural understanding in light of the many complicated social and political issues we face today. 

Featured materials from the Oviatt Library Special Collections and Archives include oral history recordings and correspondence from confinement sites such as Manzanar, Tule Lake and others across the nation. The database contains newspapers written, printed and distributed by camp detainees. There are also governmental records such as those from the War Relocation Authority that provide camp photographs, maps and reports.  Of special interest are personal scrapbooks as well as letters and postcards from the public expressing support both for and against the incarcerations. As a multi-institutional effort, many of the collections have local significance that is important to not only students, scholars and historians, but to those interested in tracing their genealogy and family histories.

Backside of postcard with cartoon of U.S. plane bombing Tokyo and an angry Japanese citizen reacting
Backside of postcard with cartoon of U.S. plane bombing Tokyo and an angry Japanese citizen reacting. See Full Record in the Collection

The project first began in 2014 with a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize and offer these materials online as a proof of concept.  This resulted in over 400 digitized documents across nine participating campuses and the creation of a web portal to disseminate information about the project and the collections represented therein. The site also offers a growing bibliography and links provided to scholarly publications relevant to these collections. With four additional campuses and funding from the National Parks Service, this project will now be formally implemented. Currently, items can be searched, viewed and downloaded through a central database hosted by the campus of CSU Dominguez Hills.

Expert guidance for the project is provided by a number of local leading scholars on the subject, some of whom have publications that are also accessible through the site. In addition this project receives important support from Densho of the Japanese American Legacy Project. We strongly encourage everyone interested in this topic to regularly visit the CSU Japanese American Digitization Project web site and database, which will continue to grow over the years to come.