Teaching and Learning Resources by Peter Pappas

How to Read Documentary Films

Child waiting to be taken to Manzanar April 1942 LC-DIG-fsa-8a31173

While many are aware that the US government forcibly removed and incarcerated more than 120,000 U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry during WWII. Few people know that the government recruited some of these same people to work at farm labor camps across the west to harvest crops essential to the war effort.

Uprooted from Uprooted Exhibit

Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War II is a traveling photography exhibit (and website) that tells this story and provides a treasure trove of resources for historians, teachers and students. Uprooted draws from images of Japanese American farm labor camps taken by Russell Lee in the summer of 1942. Lee worked as a staff photographer for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), a federal agency that between 1935 and 1944 produced approximately 175,000 black-and-white film negatives and 1,600 color photographs.

I worked with the Uprooted team and developed a lesson How reliable are documentary films as a historic source? (Lesson Plan 2) The lesson begins with the teacher telling students that they are about to watch two short videos about the experience of some Japanese Americans during World War II. The first video was made in 1943 by the US government as an informational service to the US public. It features video shot in 1941 and 1942 and narration by a government official. The second video was made in 2014 by documentary filmmakers to accompany the Uprooted Exhibit. It features historic video from World War II as well as oral history interviews with Japanese Americans that the filmmakers shot in 2013 and 2014. The narration is taken from the interviews. Before the videos are shown, the teacher asks the students which video they think will be a more reliable historical source. (Be sure to have them justify their thinking to their peers). Prompts include: 

  • A video made in the era being studied or a video made over seventy years later?
  • A video made by the United States government or a video made by documentary filmmakers?
  • A video narrative by a government official or a video narrated by people who participated in the event?

The lesson then guides students through comparisons of both videos based on close reading strategies – what does the video say? how does it say it? what does it mean to me?

A complete lesson plan, collection of images and historic documents is available at Uprooted. A second lesson plan considers the question:  How reliable are documentary photographs as a historic source? (1.1, 1.2, 1.3) The site even includes a kit for students to curate their own Uprooted museum mini-exhibit.

You can find Uprooted on Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | Instagram

The museum exhibit open at The Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario, OR on September 12, 2014 and runs through December 12, 2014. It then travels to Minidoka County (ID) Historical Society and the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland Ore. More exhibit info and updates

I’d like to close this post by crediting the talented team behind Uprooted. Curator – Morgen Young, Web and Graphics Designer –Melissa Delzio, Videographers – Courtney Hermann and Kerribeth Elliott. Uprooted is a project of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission.

Image credit:  Child waiting to be taken to Manzanar, April 1942, Los Angeles, California. Photographer Russell Lee. Library of Congress (Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF33-013290-M4)

How to Read Documentary Photographs

Russell Lee Los Angeles 1942. LC-USF33-013296-M4

While many are aware that the US government forcibly removed and incarcerated more than 120,000 U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry during WWII. Few people know that the government recruited some of these same people to work at farm labor camps across the west to harvest crops essential to the war effort.

Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War II is a traveling photography exhibit (and website) that tells this story and provides a treasure trove of resources for historians, teachers and students. Uprooted draws from images of Japanese American farm labor camps taken by Russell Lee in the summer of 1942. Lee worked as a staff photographer for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), a federal agency that between 1935 and 1944 produced approximately 175,000 black-and-white film negatives and 1,600 color photographs.

Many are familiar with the work of Lee’s colleague Dorothea Lange, who worked for the War Relocation Authority in 1942. Lee also made significant contributions to the photographic record of the Nikkei wartime experience. Between April and August of 1942, he took some six hundred images of Japanese Americans in California, Oregon, and Idaho, including rare documentation of farm labor camps. To explore all of Lee’s FSA photographs, visit the Library of Congress website.

Farm Labor ad from the Minidoka Irrigator (camp newspaper)

Uprooted also features video interviews with Japanese Americans who lived and worked in these seasonal farm labor camps as well as an archive of engaging historic documents from the era. Lee’s photographs depict smiling Japanese Americans cheerfully making the best of  farm work and living in tents. But the interviews and historic documents tell a different story – harsh fieldwork, substandard living conditions and local townspeople suspicious of these intruders and their “questionable loyalty.” Even the incarcerated Japanese Americans were divided about working in the farm labor camps. Some saw it as an better alternative than the barbed wire of camps like Manzanar or Minidoka. But others resisted after hearing stories of grueling “stoop” labor, primitive housing and hostile locals.  

While Uprooted focuses on a what some might consider a “footnote” of the US WWII homefront experience, I recognized that this rich collection could provide students with the material to develop historical thinking skills in sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating and close reading.

How does this collection of video interviews and historic documents help shed light on Lee’s intent? Was he trying to gloss over the harsh living and working conditions to help recruit more farm laborers? Was he trying to depict the noble and patriotic sacrifice of Japanese Americans forcibly stripped of their homes and livelihoods following the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese warplanes? Or did Lee simply shoot what he saw while on a photo assignment for the FSA? 

I worked with the Uprooted team and developed a lesson How reliable are documentary photographs as a historic source? (1.1 Teachers Guide, 1.2 Photographs, 1.3 Documents) Students begin by reflecting on the photographs they take and often share on social media. What do you see in the photographs? What stories do they tell? Next they are taken through scaffolded activities to closely examine Lee’s photographs and compare them to the often conflicting depictions of the farm labor camps found in the other historic documents. Finally they are asked to reconsider their contemporary social media photographs and how they might be interpreted by future historian studying “the life of a teenager in 2010s.” A complete lesson plan, collection of images and historic documents is available at Uprooted. The site even includes a kit for students to curate their own Uprooted museum mini-exhibit. A second lesson plan is also available. How reliable are documentary films as a historic source? Lesson plan 2. 

You can find Uprooted on Twitter | Facebook | Flickr | Instagram

The museum exhibit open at The Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario, OR on September 12, 2014 and runs through December 12, 2014. It then travels to Minidoka County (ID) Historical Society and the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland Ore. More exhibit info and updates

I’d like to close this post by crediting the talented team behind Uprooted. Curator – Morgen Young, Web and Graphics Designer – Melissa Delzio, Videographers - Courtney Hermann and Kerribeth Elliott. Uprooted is a project of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission

Top Image credit: Library of Congress
Title: Los Angeles, California. The evacuation of Japanese-Americans from West Coast areas under U.S. Army war emergency order. Japanese-American family waiting for train to take them to Owens Valley
Creator(s): Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer
Date Created/Published: 1942 Apr.
Medium: 1 negative : nitrate ; 35 mm.
Reproduction Number: LC-USF33-013296-M4

Newspaper Ad “You don’t need to wait any longer to get out.” From the Minidoka Irrigator.
Sugar companies posted recruitment notices and advertisements in public spaces throughout the camps, as well as in camp newspapers. Such advertisements emphasized seasonal labor as an opportunity to leave confines of camp, but also marketed the work as the patriotic duty of Japanese Americans, ignoring that they had been incarcerated and denied their civil liberties.
National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., Record Group 210, War Relocation Authority.

Free iBook: History of Portland’s Japantown

Portland’s Japantown Revealed Cover

Awarded “Best Textbook” and “Best Widget, 2015” More

I’m pleased to introduce my multitouch iBook: Portland’s Japantown Revealed. Free at iTunes.
It’s a collection of historic documents, photographs and interviews that tell the story of Portland’s “Nihonmachi” (Japantown) - a once vibrant community that disappeared with the forced removal and incarceration of its citizens. It’s the fourth title in my Homefront USA series of iBooks. 

It’s filled with over a hundred archival photographs and dozens of video interviews with former Japantown residents selected from the collection of the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center. The book details life from the 1890s until the eve of WWII when it had grown to a bustling neighborhood with over 100 businesses. Located within a twelve block area in an area north of Burnside St and west of the Willamette River, it was a home to scores Japanese American families and a regional destination for others who wanted to buy traditional food, receive dental and medical care, find legal assistance, and take care of their banking needs.

One exciting feature of the iBook are interactive “Portland Revealed” widgets that allow the reader to blend historic and contemporary photographs. I created them by seeking out locations of historic photographs where the architecture had been preserved and re-photographing the contemporary setting. The resulting overlay lets the user “paint” the historic figures into modern settings.

ONLC 01856 Morimoto Kawamoto truck

“ … we just didn’t know what was going to happen to us. Were they going to shoot us, or are they going to send us all to Japan, and we can’t even speak Japanese properly.”

The book details the Japanese American reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the uncertainty that swept through Nihonmachi. A Japanese American woman who was nineteen at time recalls “Well, they won’t take us, we’re citizens … “we’re citizens,” that’s all we kept saying, “they wouldn’t take us.” A  man looks back and recalls thinking “ … we just didn’t know what was going to happen to us. Were they going to shoot us, or are they going to send us all to Japan, and we can’t even speak Japanese properly.”

To give the reader historic context for the temper of the times, the book includes pamphlets, posters and movie clips that exemplify the anti-Japanese rhetoric of the era. Portland’s Japantown residents retell the story of the sudden arrests and disappearance of community leaders in the days following Pearl Harbor.

By February of 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 cleared the way for the forced removal and incarceration of Portland’s Nihonmachi.

Japanese-American child who will go with his parents to Owens Valley

Once the exclusion orders were issued, Portland’s Japanese Americans had only a few days to get their business affairs in order before having to report to the Portland Assembly Center. Many were barred by the Alien Land Laws, from owning property, thus their businesses investments were in fixtures and inventory. Limited to only a suitcase of personal possessions, many had to leave everything behind or liquidate possession or properties in quick sales for only pennies on the dollar. Within days Nihonmachi’s residents were stripped of their civil rights, freedom and financial equity.

Their first stop was the Portland Assembly Center operated in the summer of 1942. It was one of the many temporary incarceration centers built in large population centers on the west coast until more permanent centers could be built further inland. The Portland Assembly Center was really the Pacific International Livestock Exposition Pavilion. Plywood construction and rough partitions could not cloak the smell of manure, or deter the swarms of black flies.

Page from Portland’s Japantown RevealedFor four months, over 3,500 evacuees made do in this roughshod temporary housing with minimal plumbing and little privacy. No information was given on how long they would be at the assembly center or where they would go next. See interviews with people incarcerated at that center and contrast them with the cheerful photographs circulated to the US public. Most of Portland’s Nihonmachi was eventually moved from the Portland Assembly Center to more permanent incarceration at the Minidoka War Relocation Center.

But after the war … the Japanese town was not there… I don’t think there was that central feeling of Japantown. ~ Former resident

Released from incarceration in 1945, Portland’s Japanese community faced tough decisions about where to “restart” their lives. Most had lost their livelihoods, homes and possessions in the wartime roundup. Released from incarceration in 1945, Portland’s Japanese community faced tough decisions about where to “restart” their lives. Most had lost their livelihoods, homes and possessions in the wartime roundup.

In the post-war years, some Japanese American businesses were re-established in what had been Portland’s Japantown. Nonetheless, the vitality of a neighborhood that once was a vibrant Nihonmachi never fully recovered from the US government’s forced removal and incarceration of its Japanese American residents during the war years.

Unless otherwise noted images from the Nikkei Legacy Center.
Young girl detainee by Russell Lee. 
U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information.

Incarceration of Portland’s Japanese Americans in WWII

Two children in camp c 1943 Minidoka concentration camp Idaho Two children in camp c. 1943 Minidoka concentration camp Idaho

What was the impact of President Roosevelt’s 1942 Executive Order 9066 on Portland Oregon’s Japanese-American community? The following presentation uses video interviews of camp internees, archived photographs, and historic documents to answer that question.

It was created by Kyle Stephens and Peter Gallagher in conjunction with the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center. Their thoughtful curation of historic content guides the reader through the experience of Japanese-Americans incarcerated during the War and the government’s justification for doing so. Engaging questions and points for discussion are placed throughout the presentation.

The lesson features reaction to Executive Order 9066, temporary incarceration at Portland Assembly Center (built on the grounds of a former stockyard on the banks of the Columbia River), and the final destination for most of Portland’s Japanese-American community – the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho.

Kyle and Peter were student in my social studies methods class at the University of Portland working on curriculum development for Portland’s Nikkei Legacy Center. Special thanks to the Densho Digital Archive for providing video and still images. 

Nikkei Classroom Presentation from Peter Gallagher

Image credit / Densho Encyclopedia: denshopd-i39-00044

iPhone Walking Tour of Historic Japantown Portland

japantownpdx

I’m pleased to introduce you to Japantown PDX, a free iPhone app that I designed with the assistance of the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, GammaPoint LLC, and my students at the University of Portland. Explore Portland Oregon’s historic Japantown with this user-friendly walking tour. The city’s vibrant pre WWII Japanese American community is archived in over 125 photographs and audio clips. This GPS-enabled app guides you through Portland’s eight block Japantown, a bustling community in the early decades of the twentieth century – better known today as the colorful Old Town / Chinatown neighborhood. Map

Japantown PDX Judo Obukan

The free iOS app documents the vitality of this once thriving “Nihonmachi” and its sudden disappearance in the spring of 1942 when all persons of Japanese ancestry were removed from the West Coast and placed in America’s concentration camps during WWII. In addition to telling Portland’s Japantown story, the app explores the remarkably diverse Old Town neighborhood in tour stops that honor its African American, Chinese and LGBT roots.

Todd Mayberry, the Director of Collections and Exhibits at Nikkei Legacy Center speaks to the role this app can play in promoting the historic importance of Portland’s Nihonmachi and the need to preserve it from the ever-present threat of historically inappropriate over development.

“This innovative app will guide users beyond the walls of our museum and into the heart of Portland’s historic Japanese American community. Explore our streets and buildings guided by our narrator and mapped collections of photographs. We can’t wait to welcome you back to our home.”

App Features
Our goal was to design a user-friendly app suitable for all technical “abilities.” We began by surveying the Nikkei Center’s rich collection of historic photos for location-specific images. The most notable and well-documented became our tour stops. When we had historic exterior shots we photographed the contemporary scene replicating the view. Thus users can watch historic Japantown street life reappear in “then and now” dynamic photographic dissolves. Each stop has multiple historic and contemporary images, text and an audio narration. We had many historic photos that told the story of a vibrant community, but they lacked location. We decided to include them in the app as a “Gallery Section.” The app also allows users to share image content with built in Facebook and Twitter buttons.

Then and Now Photo Japantown PDX

We also wanted to weave in an underlying narrative – the story of WWII’s Executive Order 9066, the forced incarceration of the neighborhood’s Japanese Americans first at the “temporary” Portland Assembly Center and eventually at the Minidoka concentration camp located in southern Idaho. While the app is location based, we elected to give it an narrative arc that begins with an opening audio greeting voiced by Jean Matsumoto who grew up in the pre-WWII Japantown. Jean and her family were among over 110,000 Japanese Americans that were removed from the West Coast and incarcerated without trial. The app details other stories of forced relocation and re-population of the the neighborhood after the war and invites users to learn more by exploring the exhibits at the Nikkei Legacy Center in the heart of historic Japantown. Map

UP Students Explore Nikkei Center Exhibits

UP Students Explore Nikkei Center Concentration Camp Exhibit

About the Project Team
This app grew out of a collaboration between my Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland and the Nikkei Legacy Center. It was one of three curriculum design projects undertaken by students in support of the museum’s educational outreach. For more see my post Student Consultants Design Museum Curriculum and Mobile App. 

Japantown PDX Map view

My class served two roles in the app development – the entire class became our focus group – discussing what they thought needed to be in the app – both from the perspective of user experience and their growing knowledge of the history of Portland’s Japantown. Three student’s worked more directly – narration (Aram Glick), audio recording (Collin Soderberg-Chase) and logo (Samuel TS Kelly). I worked closely with Todd Mayberry to select content and images.

The other key team member was GammaPoint LLC a Portland-based mobile app developer and designers of my favorite workout app - WeatherRun. GammaPoint was interested in designing a user-friendly platform that would allow organizations to develop their own tour apps with a minimum amount of assistance. Our project served as their beta. We worked with GammaPoint on developing the tour design, generating prototypes which were then evaluated by my students and Nikkei Center. For example, we discovered that while we had a wealth of video interviews of former Japantown residents, their file size bloated the app. We used plist files to upload data to GammaPoint and tested their new web-based upload tool. It has now evolved into GammaPoint’s App4Tour which promises to be an affordable way for users to create their own multi-media rich tours with minimum of technical assistance.

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