UC Berkeley library awarded grants for Japanese American WWII projects

Grandfather and grandchildren awaiting bus in Hayward, Calif. on May 8, 1942 for their forced relocation during World War II. photo by Dorothea Lange, from the Bancroft Library collection, University of California, Berkeley.

In late June, the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley was awarded two grants from the National Park Service to fund the digitization of its collection of materials related to the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II and the creation of a series of oral histories focused on the concentration camps.

A $220,493 grant will support Bancroft’s creation of an interactive virtual archive of the library’s extensive materials on the Japanese American incarceration experience, making this collection more accessible for students, researchers and the general public.

More than 99,000 documents, five hours of moving-image film, 21 hours of audio and video oral history interviews, and 185,250 records kept in the National Archives and Records Administration’s holdings of the War Relocation Authority will be digitized as part of this project.

Most of these materials have, until now, been available only to researchers visiting the library in person, Theresa Salazar, curator of the Bancroft Collection of Western Americana, who is responsible for the collection’s use and outreach, said via e-mail.

“These materials continue to be some of the most heavily used collections in The Bancroft Library,” Salazar said.

The documents have been the basis for research by scholars in fields as varied as history, architecture, photographic history, sociology and political science.

“Countless books and articles have been written, but because the collections are so voluminous and research trends are ever-changing, they continue to be rich materials for researchers to mine,” Salazar said.

The Bancroft’s Regional Oral History Office (ROHO), founded in 1954, documents the experiences of the World War II home front. To date, ROHO has more than 3,000 interviews in its collection, but it has not focused specifically on the Japanese American experience due to the oral history projects on the subject already in existence, said Samuel Redman, lead interviewer for the Rosie the Riveter / WWII American Homefront Oral History Project. The Rosie the Riveter / WWII American Homefront Oral History Project began in 2001, and has collected some 130 World War II oral histories.

With its $50,000 grant, ROHO plans to conduct 40 hours of new interviews with approximately 20 Japanese Americans who can share their memories of the concentration camps, Redman said. One goal of the project is to capture a variety of experiences, which involves finding subjects who might offer unique perspectives that have not yet been recorded.

“We’ve been in touch with some of the top scholars about [the Japanese American incarceration experience] and asked them directly: What do you think are the things we know? What are the questions we still have? What is the next generation of historians going to be asking?” Redman said. “That’s difficult to anticipate.”

Some possible areas of focus include questions about education in the camps, the role of civics and patriotism, race and ethnicity, property rights and everyday life before the war, at camps and after the war.

ROHO’s process — historians conduct the interviews, which are professionally transcribed and placed in the collection of libraries at UC Berkeley and UCLA — is expensive, Redman said, but one that will be of value to historians now and in the future.

“We’re sort of the last opportunity in some sense to record the thoughts and recollections of a generation of people,” Redman said. “To try and tell the story through as many interviews as possible is daunting, but at the same time it adds diversity and flavor.”

ROHO is now seeking interviewees who can offer firsthand accounts of their wartime experiences. One of the initial people selected for an interview, Redman said, is Rep. Mike Honda of San Jose.

ROHO anticipates working with ongoing oral history projects and has already had preliminary discussions with Densho in Seattle, Redman said.

Geoff Froh, deputy director of Densho, which has also been awarded grants by the National Park Service, said there are “interesting synergies” between their work and the Bancroft’s projects.

“It’s a pretty impressive institution and we’re excited to work together,” Froh said. “We’re interested, especially with the digital repository project, in having some of the older resources made available. Many are preserved in some way now, in archives or libraries, that don’t have the resources to digitize them.”

In this fiscal year, the National Park Service is distributing 24 grants totaling $2.9 million as part of its Japanese American Confinement Sites program, which will award a total of $38 million.


The Bancroft Library’s Regional Oral History Office is actively seeking subjects to interview about their wartime incarceration experiences. Anyone with interview suggestions or who would like to volunteer, can contact Samuel Redman at rtr@lists.berkeley.edu or (510) 643-2106.



Accuracy is fundamental in journalism. In the July 28 – Aug. 3, 2011 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly, the article entitled “UC Berkeley library awarded grants for Japanese American WWII projects” stated that the Bancroft’s Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) was founded in 2001, and has conducted about 130 interviews. ROHO was founded in 1954, and has more than 3,000 interviews in its collection. The Rosie the Riveter / WWII American Homefront Oral History Project has collected some 130 World War II oral histories. The Nichi Bei Weekly regrets the errors.

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