Bancroft Library to expand documentation of Japanese Americans’ World War II experiences

The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, has received two grants from the U.S. National Park Service to expand its efforts documenting the World War II era experiences of Japanese Americans.

A $50,000 grant will underwrite work by The Bancroft’s Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) to find Japanese Americans who were interned during the war and conduct audio and video interviews with them. The interviews will be posted on the ROHO website, supplementing the office’s existing World War II Homefront interview series.

This photo of the federal Exclusion Order mandating the internment of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II was taken by famed photographer Dorothea Lange. Photo courtesy of The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

Meanwhile, a $220,493 grant will further The Bancroft’s efforts to digitize and make available online the library’s extensive Japanese American internment materials, and to integrate the resources into a new digital archive that will serve as a central resource for students of the Japanese-American evacuation and resettlement.

“The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is an unfortunate part of the story of our nation’s journey, but it is a part that needs to be told,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in announcing the grants. More than 110,000 Japanese Americans – two-thirds of whom were American citizens – were incarcerated after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The oral history project is already searching for interviewees with first-hand accounts to share, said Samuel Redman, lead interviewer for the Rosie the Riveter segment of ROHO’s World War II Homefront series.

“We will prioritize individuals willing to sit down for audio and video interviews in California, but will also consider phone interviews with individuals elsewhere in the country,” Redman said, asking anyone with interview suggestions to contact him at

The Bancroft’s three-phased, six-year plan to create a comprehensive virtual archive on the Japanese American internment will begin with the scanning of more than 99,000 documents in the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study Records that date back to 1930.

The documents will be added to the Online Archives of California (OAC), and a thematic website will lead users to the data through such tools as GIS tagging and interactive maps. The project’s second phase will involve digitizing still more holdings, including five hours of moving-image film, 1,500 photos, maps, broadsides and drawings, and 21 hours of audio and video oral history interviews. The third phase will concentrate on digitizing 185,250 records kept in the National Archives holdings of the War Relocation Authority.

“We intend to create a comprehensive virtual archive of this important period of our nation’s history,” said David de Lorenzo, The Bancroft’s associate director.  “At The Bancroft, we have built many mechanisms to assure the digital surrogates are authentic surrogates of the original analog record. As one of our nation’s premier research universities, by presenting these documents on the university’s website, we bring an authority of authenticity for future generations of users.”

In 2009, UC Berkeley issued belated diplomas to approximately 500 Japanese American students whose educations were interrupted by World War II, as many of them were sent to internment camps.  Details about their ceremony and an accompanying video are online.

Congress has allocated a total of $38 million for this effort. The Interior Department is distributing in this round $2.9 million in 2:1 matching federal funds that being distributed in 24 grants to projects in 11 states via its Japanese American Confinement Sites program.

A sampling of other projects include restoration of an internment camp cemetery, production and distribution of a documentary on jazz bands at internment camps, and the preservation, matting and framing of internees’ artwork at the Rohwer Relocation Center in Arkansas.

The Bancroft Library is urging anyone with suggestions for interviews with Japanese Americans with first-hand experience relating to the internment to contact interviewer Samuel Redman at