Five iSchool undergraduate students (Isaac HERNANDEZ, Akif ZAMAN, Victoria HA, Abel DEMISS, and Logan QIAO), who participated in the INST341 “Introduction to Digital Curation” class taught by professor Richard Marciano, saw their fall 2021 research project featured in the groundbreaking NHK World Japan documentary called: “Dear Mr. Collins – 80 Years Since the Japanese-American Internment”. The documentary first aired on April 9, 2022. NHK World Japan is the international service of Japan’s public media organization NHK. It uses television, radio and online programming to reach a global audience.

The documentary follows Haruo Kawate’s 2021 US road trip, retracing his father’s WWII footsteps through several incarceration camps. His father, Masao Kawate, was detained under very harsh conditions, at Tule Lake and at two smaller secret desert penal colonies, Moab (in Utah) and Leupp (in Arizona).  These two camps in existence in the 1st half and second half of 1943 (resp.), were set up as experimental “citizen isolation centers.”  WRA Acting Solicitor Lewis A. Sigler ended up writing a 1943 memorandum containing this indicting statement: “I should like to see a reexamination made of the advisability of continuing the Leupp Center. I think it is an un-American institution, corresponds to and is premised on Gestapo methods.”   Masao Kawate eventually renounced his American citizenship and returned to Japan in 1945. The documentary is a cautionary tale of an important part of American history.  Wayne Merrill Collins comments in the video that: “Internment is still a shadow over America, because it is prone to happen at all times.”

The team focused on the ordeal of Masao Kawate, a second-generation Japanese American, who after graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in Political Science was forcibly removed from Sacramento in 1942 to the WRA (War Relocation Authority) northern California incarceration camp of Tule Lake after the Pearl Harbor attack. The student presentation was attended virtually by Haruo Kawate, the son of Masao, and two of the students were also able to meet with Haruo in person and discuss their findings during his visits to Washington, DC and the University of Maryland College Park Campus.

Haruo Kawate shared: “I was both surprised and also moved to see how my father who passed away 23 years ago is still talked lively in far university. The night I met you, I texted my wife and sister. My sister replied to me as ‘Our father is still alive in Maryland.  I can’t stop my tears streaming my cheeks’.”

Project co-leader, Akif Zaman, shared: “It was a great opportunity to collaborate on this project with my classmates and the documentary team. Working with these mostly untouched historical collections and turning them into datasets that could support interactive analysis was a great experience. Even though it was a class project it felt like I was contributing to something bigger and much more impactful as the stories of the victims of the Internment Camps were not being told, so being able to apply what I learned to shed light on those stories using computational approaches was very rewarding.”

Students Isaac HERNANDEZ and Akif ZAMAN meeting Haruo Kawate at UMD on Dec. 8, 2021.
Documentary title & credits

The student team developed a computational archival science (CAS) project, turning recently discovered historical archival materials into datasets, and visualizing Masao Kawate’s plight through an interactive web-based dashboard. Their presentation can be seen at this link:

Project co-leader, Isaac Hernandez, concluded: Getting a soup to nuts view in one class sitting: going from a conversation to a whole documentary, and being able to showcase research findings in the process, was a first for me. Our team constantly interpreted new archival records, modeled them, turned them into digital assets, and designed points of interaction and access, which opened up a lot of creative space for innovative thinking.

Geoff Froh, Deputy Director at (a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the memory of World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans), who also attended their presentation, stated: “This is amazing work where students should be proud not only for their skilled application of innovative tools and approaches to exploring archival materials, but also for the positive impact this kind of scholarship can have on understanding the complex and often difficult history of our society.”

The project was part of a larger Digital Curation Showcase event on December 9, 2021 focused on Social Justice & Computational Archival Storytelling using Jupyter Notebooks, where forty-four INST341 students presented their fall 2021 team projects at a public event. Five of the projects tackled Japanese American WWII Incarceration Camps, and 4 others covered the themes of redlining, urban renewal, and the Spelman College African American photo archives. For more details, see:

Project mentor, Richard Marciano, added: “This is an outstanding example of inclusive, experiential, and publicly engaged student work. Integrating teaching and research by bridging the classroom and larger world, through collaborative team projects that engage students with community members, is an essential part of  the learning process. We should encourage this approach in all our classes at UMD at the undergraduate and graduate levels.”

These types of projects are supported by the the Advanced Information Collaboratory (AIC), a research network, which aims to integrate teaching and research by bringing together students, professionals, and educators. Part of the AIC’s mission is to train current and future generations of information professionals to think computationally and rapidly adapt new technologies to meet their increasingly large and complex workloads.