Associate Professors Stacey Camp and Ethan Watrall Awarded National Park Service Grant to build a digital archive of WWII Japanese internment and incarceration

The Department of Anthropology is pleased to announce that Associate Professors Stacey Camp and Ethan Watrall have been awarded a 3 year National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant for $379,017 to develop The Internment Archaeology Digital Archive (IADA), an open digital archive that will host, preserve, and provide broad public access to digitized collections of archaeological materials, archival documents, oral histories, and ephemera that speak to the experiences of Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II in the United States. This digital archive, which will be accessible to descent communities, scholars, students, and the general public, will focus on two sites of World War II incarceration: (1) Idaho’s Minidoka National Historic Site (the site of Minidoka War Relocation Center), a War Relocation Authority (WRA) facility that incarcerated over 9000 predominantly Japanese American citizens and (2) Idaho’s Kooskia Internment Camp, a Department of Justice (DOJ) prison that incarcerated over 260 Japanese American men deemed “alien enemies” by the United States government. 

Established in 2006, the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program is focused on the preservation and interpretation of U.S. confinement sites where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II.

Long Shot of Buildings at Kooskia, Kooskia Internment Camp Scrapbook, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library

A collaboration with Michigan State University’s internationally recognized MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences where Watrall also serves as Associate Director, The Internment Archaeology Digital Archive (IADA) will make a critical intervention in the preservation and interpretation of the digital record of World War II incarceration in several key ways. First, IADA will be the first digital archive to disseminate, interpret, and make legible archaeological and material culture from sites of WWII Japanese American incarceration. IADA will focus on several themes that crosscut the archaeological data and materials from two sites of incarceration, including recreation and leisure, dining and foodways, healthcare, and education. Unlike photographs that were censored or governmental documents that present an incomplete or biased picture of the internment and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, archaeology provides a unique window into the actual material realities of prisoners’ lives. 

Second, IADA will provide unique insight into the lives of first generation Japanese migrants, also known as Issei, who are largely neglected in historic and archival records. Because Issei were unable to naturalize due to the exclusionary immigration laws of the time and, as non-citizens and important members of the Japanese American community prior to the war, were seen as a threat by the United States government, they were considered prisoners of war (POWs). As such, they were treated under the conditions outlined in the Geneva Convention of 1924. IADA will provide a mechanism to compare and contrast the experiences of Japanese American non-citizen Issei at Kooskia, a Department of Justice (DOJ) prison that has been studied archivally and archaeologically by Camp since 2009, to the experiences of Japanese American citizens imprisoned at Idaho’s Minidoka War Relocation Center. 

The project will take advantage of the Department of Anthropology’s Digital Heritage Imaging and Innovation Lab in order to do 3D scans of diagnostic and particularly noteworthy archaeological material – all of which will be accessible on the IADA website when it launches at the end of the grant period.  

Men on bench outside building in Kooskia, Kooskia Internment Camp Scrapbook, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library

Beyond the digital archive of archaeological materials, archival materials, and oral histories, the project will include robust and freely available educational materials and lesson plans for use by educators. The IADA will also include a robust “People Search” feature that will allow users to search for information on individual prisoners incarcerated at the two project sites. Each prisoner will have a dedicated record page that will feature a timeline of the events in the prisoner’s life, photographs of or associated with the prisoner, associated relatives, artifacts and possessions associated with the prisoner (when available), oral histories from the prisoner (when available), and a map illustrating the prisoner’s place of birth, place(s) of residence prior to incarceration, location(s) of incarceration, and place(s) of residence after incarceration.

While IADA is primarily designed to address the immediate needs of Kooskia and Minidoka’s descent communities, Japanese Americans, and scholars of Asian American studies and incarceration, the project’s audience extends well beyond these groups. In its broadest, IADA will provide testimony and material evidence of the trauma wrought by incarceration and discrimination.

Ultimately, the project’s long-term goal is to provide a platform for the inclusion of archaeological collections from other sites of confinement and incarceration.  

Image of Men playing game at Kooskia, Kooskia Internment Camp Scrapbook courtesy of University of Idaho Library, Digital Initiatives