Today was the final day of my Loyola history internship. As I made my way to the archive, thinking about the days tasks, I was glad that the end of my Loyola internship for credit is not the end of my internship altogether. Today I did not have to think about what I would be doing on my last day in the archive. Today was just like any other day, for I knew that next Saturday I would return to the archive. I was glad that my internship is not over because there is still so much to do, and, has I have discussed in my earlier posts, I have become quite attached to the archive. The items contained within the archive have provided me with an experience that I could have never fathomed prior to working with them. I have gained a new perspective on the human condition and have, I think, become much more empathetic. The archive is still far from a point of stability, and while I know that it will be a lot of work to get it to that point, it will be worth it, for I know that what I have learned so far is only a fraction of what the archive will teach me before my work is for the most part complete. Every day that I come to the archive I am proud of what I have accomplished and I am awed by all there is yet to do, and this spurs me on. I can’t wait to get to the next task.
Because today was like any other day at the archive, my tasks were no more exciting than usual. I did, however, learn a new function of the PastPerfect program. As I was organizing the archival box that holds the Murakami collection of items, I noticed that one of the photographs was missing an accession number. According to my usual system of accessioning items, an archival object does not go onto the shelf (in this case in a box on the shelf) without first being assigned an accession number, so it seemed to me that this item had been assigned a number but had not been physically labeled with it. Therefore it was necessary to discover what its number was. After searching through the PastPerfect program for a while trying without success to figure out how to search only for those items in the Murakami collection, I finally stumbled upon a function called “Reports Maker”. This function allows one to search for any keyword or set of keywords one needs and to organize the results in any way one wishes to create a completely customizable report of certain items within the archive. It allows one, furthermore, to export the completed reports to a variety of other programs and in a variety of formats. So, after compiling such a report, one could export it to Microsoft Excel, further analyze and organize the data collected into graphs, and use it in newsletters, grant proposals, etc. While it can get a bit tedious (and confusing) to compile reports, one can easily see how beneficial they can be. The extent to which one can customize the organization of information is astounding, which means that no matter what the end is to which one would like to use the information in the archive, the PastPerfect reports maker makes it easy to do. In the end, thanks to the reports maker, I was able to determine the accession number of the photograph and place it within the archive accordingly.
Another interesting feature of the program is the relations function. This function allows one to assign relations between two or more objects. Thus while everything that had to do with the Murakami family is classified under “Murakami”, more specific relations between items within the collection can be laid out through the relations function. If, within the Murakami collection, there are two photos of the same person but that person does not appear in any of the other photographs in the Murakami collection, I can relate them to each other so that whenever one looks at one photo, one is easily directed to the other.
These two discoveries I made about the PastPerfect program go to show that even though I have been working in the archive for over a year, there is still much I have to learn in order to do my job well. I know, then, that by continuing to work at the CJAHS archive after the Loyola internship program ends, I will become more and more skilled at archival work, and I will learn something new every day.
2:52 am • 9 December 2012
After two weeks of forgetting to bring my camera to the archive, this week I finally remembered. After taking just a few pictures, however, the batteries went dead! I was able to snap a few pictures of the Purple Heart that belonged to Mr. Tom Arai and of a beautiful family photo album of the Murakami family. Both the Arai collection and the Murakami collection of artifacts, donated to us by a certain Alice Yamata, are truly wonderful additions to the archive. They each provide us with a much more complete set of information about, with Tom Arai, a specific person, and with Murakami, a specific family. Such collections are invaluable. While a general timeline of historical facts is crucial to the study of history, to truly understand something like the Japanese-American experience one must understand the individual people and families that were affected by the war and internment. Unfortunately, most of the items in the archive do not provide such a comprehensive set of information regarding one person or set of persons. They are rather specific instances that, while relatable to each other in a very general sort of way, do not provide us with an account of the whole person. For example, we have many great photographs of women in the internment camps. There are portraits, photographs of classes held in the camps, and pictures documenting community activities. etc. While these photographs are very useful for understanding the life of Japanese-American women who were affected by internment, they do not lay out the individual experience of any of these women. This is why we are very thankful for the donations of the Arai and Murakami collections; they give us an individual account.
Prior to this, I had never even seen a Purple Heart, let alone (carefully) handle one. The fact that this certain medal was actually awarded to a soldier gives it an even richer history that I am quite thankful to be able to perserve. I recently learned an interesting historical tidbit regarding the Purple Heart medal and WWII. It turns out that towards the end of WWII, there was a plan to invade Japan called “Operation Downfall”. The plan was thought to be so dangerous that an outstanding 500,000 Purple Heart medals were manufactured to prepare for the large number of soldiers wounded in carrying out the operation. Because the plan was never put into action, all the Purple Hearts awarded from the end of WWII on have come from this stock. As of 2003, over 100,000 medals were still left. We have not been able to discern when exactly Mr. Arai was awarded this Purple Heart, but since we know he was a soldier in WWII, it is quite likely that this Purple Heart was made before the manufacture of the 500,000.
Here is the Murakami family photo album. It’s quite beautiful, I think. I am very grateful for this album because it allows me to follow the family over a few decades. The photographs within are, to the best of my knowledge, arranged in chronological order, and so one is able to watch certain members of the family grow, age, and change.
On this page, in both the top-left photo and the far-right photo, one can recognize the mother. Additionally, it seems that the children in the far-right photo also appear in the top-left, only older. There are many other photographs in the album as well that show this family in various stages of their lives.
The group portraits, of which there are many in the album, are great because it is easy to find other photographs in the album of certain people in the group. When searching through an album such as this, I always first look for people with very striking or obvious facial features, for they are the easiest to recognize at different ages. I always try to make as many connections between the photos as possible, but often it is difficult to do so. Those people without striking features are difficult to recognize at different ages, and so while I may suspect that the subjects of two photographs may actually be the same person at different ages, I can never be certain. Still, for those people whose lives I am able to trace back through their photographs, I feel that I have gained a valuable timeline of their history.
8:20 pm • 2 December 2012
Now that Thanksgiving is nearing, I have realized that the end of the semester is coming, and with it the end of the History internship through Loyola. I am glad, however, that I will continue to work in the CJAHS archive after the semester ends. There is still much work to be done. Besides the mountain of artifacts and photographs from the period of internment that we have to accession, there are dozens of boxes and a few file-cabinets of documents to sort through. It is less critical for us to accession these documents than the historical artifacts; they are for the most part more recent and better stored than the artifacts and photographs and so they are in less danger of being damaged. Most of these documents are various files, notes, and contracts held by former Japanese-American community groups (the Chicago Nisei Athletic Association has donated a wonderful amount of such documents), but there are also a few sets of documents that belonged to prominent members of the Japanese-American community, including a very detailed daily journal -about which I hope I find the time to explore and write about later. As I mentioned in my previous post, however, archival work is slow, and it will likely be a year or so before we start working through these documents. For now we are storing them in as safe a manner as possible so that we don’t have to worry about them while working with the more critical artifacts.
These more critical artifacts include many of the items I have heretofore written about: the photographs, the softball and baseball bats, the prize medals, and the brooch pins hand-made in the camps. These items, when they were graciously donated to the archive, were often stored in regular boxes, tissue paper, and photo albums. These storage containers, while functional, are not archival quality; they are often composed of or treated with materials and chemicals that react with the items they contain and can damage them over time. It is, then, imperative that we carefully check each item for signs of damage and place it in a new, acid-free storage container where it will be safe from corrosion. Generally, this has been my task for the past year. And while it may sound boring and repetitive, there is truly much variation and problem-solving involved. Each item is a special case and must be treated as such. I must determine what, if any, damage or corrosion has occurred, take steps to treat this damage, and work to prevent any future deterioration. I must inspect each item carefully in order to properly store it and, furthermore, to discern its individual place in history. My job is not just making boxes and organizing these boxes on a shelf, it is also a continuous historical investigation. Each item has its own historical significance, which is often difficult to discover. This significance is often fragmented and can only be pieced together by comparing, contrasting, and investigating many others historical items and facts. To give a simple example of how a variety of knowledge is needed to discern historical significance, we found a certificate, written in Japanese, of which we knew basically nothing at first glance. Knowledge of the Japanese language being unfortunately quite scarce among those working with the CJAHS, we determined after some careful deciphering that the certificate was created in the year Showa 19, that is, the date was given in the Japanese year system. Only after finding a conversion chart were we able to determine that the certificate was created in the month of September, 1944. To think, all the work we had to do just to figure out the date!
But it is for this very reason that work in the archive is never bland or boring; each and every item has more history behind it waiting to be discovered. Often such discoveries are made only after a period of long and arduous searching, but on occasion I will be sorting through a set of items only to stumble across something that adds to the history of an item I have already accessioned. One can only wish for more of these sorts of occasions, but it shows that history, far from being a set of facts, is infinitely complex web of relations. Any one historical fact can shine light upon myriad others, and it is the job of the historian to detangle this complex skein and to clarify these relations.
3:05 am • 19 November 2012
I am quite glad to be able to work with a friend and fellow Loyolan, Alexandra Vasilou, in the CJAHS archive. In truth, it was she who influenced me to become involved in the Japanese-American community, and it was through her that I met the CJAHS president and our current supervisor, Jean Mishima. Over the years that I have known her I have become much more involved in and knowledgeable of the Japanese-American experience. Prior to this, I had little understanding of Japanese-American history, outside of a minor knowledge of the internment during World War II, but now I have become so steeped in the subject that it is difficult to comprehend my former ignorance. Admittedly, my work in the archive (prior to my entering into the Loyola history internship program) began as a job. I was given a task -organize the archive- and I only looked forward to the completion of that task, without giving thought to what might lie in between, what knowledge I might gain, what experiences I might have. I saw my position as that of a contractor; I was hired to do a job and once that job was completed I would move on. I realize now that I was mistaken. My work at the archive will only end when I pass my responsibility on to another, for there are always things to do, items to accession, and information to unearth. The archive will never be complete. It is not of the nature of archives to be complete; they are dynamic, constantly growing and changing, developing hand-in-hand with history itself. I never was a contractor hired to do a job; I have been, since the beginning, a curator. I maintain this aspect of history.
This is why when I do the various tasks required of my position I do them not with an eye towards the completion of a grand task, but rather with an eye towards the individual objects of the archive. Truly, they are the focus of my work. A well maintained archive is just that, well maintained. It is not a job well done, but rather a duty well continuously fulfilled. Just yesterday I was making more photograph frames for the oversized photographs we have in the archive. Each photograph is of differing dimensions from the others, and even if two differ only by half an inch, they require two differently sized frames. The making of these frames, then, cannot be entirely systematized; each photograph deserves its own custom frame.
Surely, if such a task as making frames was approached as a mere step towards the completion of a job, it could become quite frustrating. One might wish that each photograph was of the same dimensions as the others to facilitate the task, or one might search for a may of making a sort of one-size-fits-all frame in order to speed up production, even if it might be at the expense of the photographs themselves. In other words, one might be less likely to give due attention to the preservation of the items.
One must therefore understand well what exactly is one’s duty when curating an archive. There exists no such thing as completion. An archive grows alongside history, and changes so long as time passes. The duty of the archivist is to ensure that the archive survives the passing of time and survives it well.
10:23 pm • 11 November 2012
Archival work is necessarily very slow-going. The historical items with which I am working are delicate and require careful handling. Relatively, these artifacts are not very old, but in order to preserve them for years to come they must be treated correctly now, for any mishandling could result in slow yet ultimately damaging corrosion, wear, etc. The case is made more difficult when one is dealing with items that have been badly treated or stored for years already. In addition to handling them carefully and storing them safely, one must undertake the task of trying to reverse some of the damage done. Because I am not a professional, I unfortunately cannot do much to reverse damage. Rather than try and only damage the artifact more (which is likely among the inexperienced like myself) I often take even greater pains to handle the artifact more carefully. My goal is to prevent the artifact from becoming worse than it was when I first encountered it. I want it to remain exactly the same year after year. In the archival field, then, to be quick is often to be counterproductive, for rapidity is often accompanied by some degree of carelessness, and any degree of carelessness in the treatment of historical artifacts can mean long-term damage.
A few weeks ago I began working with a variety of large-scale photographs (about 2 feet wide and a foot tall) that had been stored rolled up for years, perhaps even a decade or more. They had been rolled up for so long and were so old that trying to “bend” them back to being straight was not an option. Such a procedure was likely to damage them more; they are delicate and prone to tearing. We tried mounting them on archival board as we do with smaller photographs, but they would often roll themselves back up off of the mounting board. We knew we needed archival quality photo frames to store them flat, but each photograph is a different size and so we would have had to purchase a variety of photo frames. In an effort to save money and yet keep the photographs safe, I began to construct frames out of the acid-free board we use to make archival boxes. The board is sturdy so that the photos can be stored flat and because it is acid-free it will not damage the photographs over time. After inserting the photographs into the frames we then insert the frames into large plastic sleeves to protect them from dust, moisture, etc.
One of these large photographs, in addition to having been stored rolled-up for years, had been torn almost in half. To make matters worse, someone had attempted to remedy the tear with regular plastic tape. This tape is certainly not suitable for such a purpose and so over the years the tape began to corrode the photograph underneath it. Luckily my steady-handed colleague, Alexandra Vasilou, was able to remove much of the tape without removing any of the photograph underneath it. It took her a great deal of time and there remains some tape that she was not able to remove, but in the end the photograph will be safer throughout the coming years.
These experiences go to show just how slow archival work can be. But to work slowly is to give the artifact a better chance of survival throughout its lifetime, which is invaluable to the study of history. Slow work is, furthermore, often a welcome and even enjoyable alternative to one’s fast-paced and hectic daily life.
12:55 am • 5 November 2012
I feel very proud to be working at the archive here. While the CJAHS is a relatively small organization, even in comparison to other Chicago-based Japanese American organizations, we are the only one focused on Japanese American history in Chicago. We are a part of a loose collection of Japanese American historical societies throughout the United States. Since I started blogging about my internship here I have gotten quite caught up in the immediate doings of the archive and I have, unfortunately, neglected to share the activities of the society on the whole. The archive is only one, albeit essential, aspect of the CJAHS.
We have been lucky enough to have some of the items from the archive put on permanent display at the Chicago History Museum. The display is entitled Race + Citizenship.
On display are a variety of photographs and some small items that belonged to Japanese Americans in the camps. In addition there are short, thought-provoking stories and historical narratives, as well as an interactive video installment that allows participants to gain a greater depth of knowledge about the injustice inherent in the internment process. The video provides examples of some of the questions asked of Japanese Americans shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack. The participant realizes just how leading the questions were; for many, any of the given answers could indicate possible anti-American sentiments on the part of the participant.
I encourage everyone to go to the Chicago History Museum to visit our display as well as the various other displays dealing with civil rights issues in the United States throughout history.
Another major program is the annual Day of Remembrance presentation. Every year the CJAHS in collaboration with other Chicago-area Japanese American organizations gives a presentation to remember the signing of Executive Order 9066 in 1942, which order the interment of over one hundred thousand Japanese Americans throughout the nation. The presentation features a historical lecture accompanied by a slide show featuring photographs from the CJAHS archive as well as narratives given by Japanese Americans who experienced the camps first-hand.
The CJAHS also played a crucial role in The Voices of Chicago, a collection of first-person narratives and interviews about the Japanese-American experience in Chicago. The project was not focused on internment, but rather strove to collect the life-stories of people of Japanese ancestry across generations. Voices of Chicago was a part of a larger project conducted by Japanese American historical societies across the United States.
For a complete list of the project of the CJAHS visit www.cjahs.org.
7:07 pm • 28 October 2012
Things have been fairly uneventful at the archive lately. We have moved past an exciting period of organizing and accessioning new items into a period of box making and tissue-paper wrapping. As I mentioned before, we recently came across a series of small items made by internees in the camps. Once these were accessioned, I spent the greater part of a day making small boxes for them, carefully wrapping them in archival tissue paper, and finding a place for them on a shelf amongst the other items.
In the first photo we see two brooch pins carved of wood in the shape of birds, a wood-carved pin bearing the name “Mitsuri”, and stone carving of a temple. The second picture shows two more wood-carved brooch pins in the shape of a bluejay and a cardinal respectively.
I’m quite partial to the bird pins. Neither these nor the bluejay nor the cardinal were labeled in any way, so we don’t know who donated them or who made them. Judging by the styles of each bird, however, and the methods used to create them, we feel certain that all four birds were made by the same person. The legs and feet are a telling sign; each bird’s legs are made of tightly wound wire that is shaped in such a way as to situate each bird upon a small segment of a tree branch.
Here we see two more birds made out of small seashells, a hair clip, and a crocheted bookmark. The bookmark is exceptionally beautiful. The crochet is very fine and detailed, and the colors are striking. It is also in very good condition for its age.
Along with these items we also came across two sets of Hana cards. Hana is a popular Japanese card-matching game, and so while the cards were not made in the camps, they certainly were used quite a bit.
The cards are very beautiful, but for a card-matching game, they are a little confusing. In my experience playing the game (which is limited) it is difficult to determine which cards pair with each other and, furthermore, which cards are worth more or less than others. I have been told that among experienced players the game moves extraordinarily fast, but I have never been able to reach such speeds.
Since the CJAHS archive is very photograph-heavy, it has been enjoyable to spend some time with more solid historical artifacts. I find that such items have a different historical sense about them. In some ways a picture tells much more about a period in history, but in others an artifact gives a much more complete sense of the person or persons that contributed to its creation. In experiencing a historical artifact, one experiences that person or those persons as they still exist through that artifact. In this way one feels much closer to history through an artifact than through a photograph.
12:56 pm • 22 October 2012
My basic goal at the CJAHS archive is to ensure that all archival items are properly stored. Improper storage in boxes, paper, etc. that are not acid-free can lead to irreversible damage to the items, and so we make sure to package everything in acid-free packaging, keep them away from damaging lights, keep them dry, and in an environment with a stable temperature. By taking such precautions we hope to keep the archive safely maintained for as long as possible.
Acid-free boxes are a must for any archive. The company from which we purchase our archival materials, Gaylord, gives us the option to purchase pre-made boxes or to buy archival quality board from which to make our own boxes. We chose the latter option. Buying the raw board saves us money (something of which do not have in great quantity), and making our own boxes allows us to make them to whatever specifications we happen to need.
This is the raw board. Buying enough board to make dozens upon dozens of archival quality boxes costs much less than buy just one dozen pre-made boxes. While it requires some know-how and labor, we can make boxes to fit any sort of item whatsoever so as to ensure the item’s proper storage.
Having been put in charge of all box-making at the archive, I have become quite the expert. I have developed a series of templates from which to cut and shape boxes, and by applying the general paradigm I have developed I can make a box in a new size very quickly.
On the far left is a box of the specifications I use most often. It is a sort of general purpose box, useful for storing a variety of objects. The other two boxes were made specially for certain oddly shaped items: baseball bats and old newspapers.
As you can see, the baseball bats fit quite snugly into their custom-built archival box. Once wrapped in acid-free paper to protect them from scratching each other, they will be safe for years to come.
In addition to making boxes of certain sizes, we are able to make boxes of whatever style we need to store specific items. For example, the series of prize-medals I have mentioned in earlier posts have their own box with separate compartments for each medal. This way the medals can be kept together and organized within the box according to their accession numbers.
While most of the boxes are make are fairly large, just yesterday I used the same archival board to make a series of very small boxes to fit individual trinkets hand-made by Japanese-Americans in the internment camps. Each box is about 3”x4”x2” and fit the small items perfectly. Unfortunately I forgot my camera and was thus unable to take pictures, But I promise I will take some for my next post.
All the photos in the archive are mounted on acid-free mounting board, inserted into a protective sleeve, and stored in album designed to keep light out. Abnormally large photographs we mount and store in very wide and flat archival boxes, similar to the newspaper box shown above.
A lot of work is required to properly store archival items, but it is worth the trouble. Improperly stored items can and will degrade or be damaged, an irreversible loss for the archive and for the historical pursuit.
5:38 pm • 14 October 2012
I love old photographs, and working in the CJAHS archive gives me a lot of old photographs to dig through. I have mentioned before that we are constantly unearthing more photographs. We can’t keep up with our own discoveries. We have already filled two large photo albums with photos, but we have yet another three or four albums worth of photographs to sort through, accession, and mount.
I am particularly fond of old portraits, specifically those taken in the early days of photography. The subjects of these photographs treated the matter very seriously, as is evident from their expressions and choice of dress. Their expressions are stern, almost solemn, and their clothes the best they owned. We of the modern day, in which photographs are taken by the hundreds on every occasion in which photo-taking can be even remotely justified, do not, and I dare say cannot, understand the sentiment behind these old portrait photographs. For someone who is used to photographs whose subjects wear obnoxiously large smiles and make comical poses, these vintage portraits are utterly repressive. The subjects’ faces show bordom and displeasure of a regal nature, their posture is stiff and proper, their clothes formal.
If there are children in the portrait, the photographer certainly did not try to capture their carefree innocence as they often do today. They are often made to look like little adults, and their expressions and clothes suit this purpose.
The three young boys in this photograph are the most striking to me. Their uniforms in the military fashion, they look at me as if they are my superiors, and I am almost inclined to believe them. I am even inclined to believe that the older members of the family are beneath them as well.
No other portait of any other historical period, whether a painting, drawing, or photograph, strikes me such as these portraits do. I am not, however, exactly sure why. Perhaps paintings and drawings are not able to capture the nuances of expression, perhaps modern portraits seem to be treated more as a right than as a privilege. Either way, I see much more life, a greater richness and background, in these vintage portraits than I do in any others.
I shall continue studying these old portraits. Hopefully someday I will stumble upon some insight into why they are so striking, although part of me wants it to remain uncovered. I like the mystery. And perhaps the mystery is just it. These people couldn’t have been so serious all the time. In fact, I know they weren’t. I’ve found other pictures of them with big smiles on their faces.
11:57 pm • 11 October 2012
I have been feeling lately that I am becoming a more astute archivist. My knowledge of the PastPerfect program is growing with each use, and I feel that each day is more productive than the last. I look around at the work I and my colleague Alexandra Vasilou have completed and I feel accomplished, I finally see the results of almost a year of work at the CJAHS archive. Blue, acid-free archival boxes stack the shelves, large photo albums protect hundreds of carefully mounted photographs, and books on Japanese-American history and culture arrange themselves throughout three bookshelves. There is still much more to be done, however, for we are discovering new artifacts, photographs, and documents each day. Just when one pile of items is accessioned, a new pile takes its place. But the work is enjoyable. I rather enjoy sifting through these piles of historical items. I know that, despite the mountain of work there is to do, it pays to be patient, to take one’s time, to give each item its proper due, for history has already happened, there is no deadline to meet.
Archival work is, for this very reason, often very slow going. It is a job for the careful, the meticulous, and for those not easily bored. Certainly there are times when, accessioning dozens of almost identical items, I feel that perhaps I ought to just get this done quickly, but just then some interesting little item finds its way into my hands I am reminded to take my time. Each piece has its role, and each role is equally crucial. Indeed, I feel that Alexandra and I are assembling an entire world out of these historical artifacts. The process is reminiscent in a way of that of mathematics. There is a whole, complete, comprehensive world of information out there that exists as such a comprehensive whole independently of all human knowledge of it, and by entering into this world we begin to discover various aspects of it one by one. Soon we have at our disposal a vast knowledge of this world, yet we are aware of the fact that this world is inexhaustible; there is always more to be discovered and more detailed knowledge to acquire.
Yesterday we came across a box containing a dozen or so small items made by Japanese-Americans in the internment camps. I am quite taken with two of them: two small pins, carved out of wood into the shape of a cardinal and a bluejay. They are very expressive birds. The cardinal, bright red, quickly takes to the air, his expression almost that of desperation. The bluejay, deep blue, sits melancholy upon a branch, watching the passerby below. Such artifacts unfailingly motivate questions as to their sculptor. Having been made in the camps, their sculptor was certainly Japanese-American, and their complex expressions and carefully crafted forms indicate that the sculptor was a talented artist. Anything beyond this, however, is merely a conjecture, but one sees how the historical world begins to take shape. We investigate the origin of the birds -this is how we enter into the historical world- and from this come to discover a variety of aspects of history. As we discover more a whole historical world comes into view, and its discovery gives us a sense that we are recollecting something about our own pasts, that somehow who we are is bound up in this inexhaustible history that we were unaware of until just recently.
2:28 am • 9 October 2012