Students Amplify Stories Through Archives

Eleventh grader Shoshana R. was one of several students who dove into the lives of Japanese-Americans incarcerated in WWII in December. Along with her classmates she searched for a lesser-known story to tell about the Japanese-American incarceration by the United States government.

Shoshana chose to focus her exhibit on the experience of females in the camps, informing upon maternal healthcare, caring for children, acts of sexual violence and assault, and other difficulties women faced.

“People usually learn about the living conditions and how harsh and bleak it was, but not about individual experiences,” Shoshana says. “I feel like, in general, women experience a lot of things that we don’t talk about a lot, and I thought it was important to highlight that issue.”

Emphasizing her point, Shoshana said one of the hardest parts of the project was finding the information she needed. Eventually, she was able to find some quality sources on the Densho Project website, among others, and create her exhibit.

“The assignment wasn’t to tell the story of what happened, we already know that,” says Humanities teacher Curtis Hisayahu. “We wanted students to find a human-interest element, or some aspect of the process of incarceration that isn’t traditionally told, and amplify it. We wanted them to find their own small story to tell in the history.”

To prepare for the assignment, students read Miné Okubo’s graphic novel Citizen 13660, a biographical documentation of life inside one of the relocation centers. Then, browsing through archives of the Japanese-American incarceration from The Densho Project, Smithsonian Museum, and others, students created visual PowerPoints with information slides on subjects such as baseball, women’s rights, and entrepreneurship in the camps, among others.

“We had to analyze everything so deeply, find our specific focus, and figure out how to tell the narrative,” says Shoshana. “I’m a visual learner, so I like this over writing a paper because all the same research and information is in the exhibit. It is just consolidated in a different way.”