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ASU archivist makes Japanese Internment Camp Collection digitally accessible

ASU Library's online archive collections show commitment to open access.
June 8, 2017

Robert Spindler says publicly available, searchable resources allow a new look at a dark chapter of U.S. history

Uncomfortable as it may be, one way to avoid the mistakes of the past is to confront them — one of the reasons preservation of historical documents is so important, said Arizona State University archivist Robert Spindler.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order that cleared the way for the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II, a dark chapter of U.S. history that underscores the fact that xenophobia is not a recent phenomenon.

During the past couple of years, Spindler (pictured above) has helped to digitize a rare collection of newsletters and photographs from Arizona’s Japanese internment camps. The collection, a collaboration between the ASU Library Arizona Collection and the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, contains more than 5,000 pages of bilingual camp newsletters, now publicly available and text-searchable via the ASU Library Digital Repository.

“Over the decades, there’s been a fair amount of scholarship and exhibit work and historical interpretation done regarding the Japanese internment camps,” Spindler said. “But having this content searchable enables more research; a new look at this history.”

The collection tells the everyday life stories of the tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans interned in Arizona’s two campsMore than 13,000 Japanese-Americans were sent to the Gila River War Relocation Center, southeast of Phoenix on the Gila River Indian Reservation, and more than 17,000 were sent to Arizona's other internment camp, the Poston Relocation Center on the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation. for three years during one of our country’s most difficult periods.

There are stories of baseball games, prom dresses and church services — and stories of soldiers who fought bravely for a country they loved “despite the great tragedy of internment,” as Spindler put it.

“There is deep and amazing patriotism expressed in these pages,” he said. “[Despite] the separation of families … and the loss of their businesses, the loss of their homes … they endured, and they pulled together as a community. That shows what it’s really like to be a patriot, to be a person who still believes in your country, even though the chips are down … and, in this extreme case, you’ve been unjustly incarcerated. That is real patriotism, and that, in my mind, is the greatest story here.”

When Spindler began working on the project in 2015, he had a massive amount of digitized image files that needed to be shrunk in order to be presented online in a user-friendly way. He taught himself how to use Adobe Acrobat to shrink the files and used the software’s optical character recognition feature to make the scanned images text-searchable.

“It’s really basic digital librarianship, but from a user standpoint it’s transformational,” he said. “Now you can search for your family members, or search for information about schools, or information about the baseball teams, or the other day-to-day things that are featured in these papers.”

Having the collection available online also reduces the handling and associated degradation of the physical copies of the newsletters and photographs.

An important aspect of the collection, Spindler said, is that it honors ASU and its partners’ commitment to open access.

“There are some organizations who have business models where they digitize materials and they try to generate revenue from the result of that work. Sometimes that’s the only way you can get this work done,” he said. “Then there are other institutions that can build collaborations that are dedicated to open access to material.

“So our work here at ASU has centered largely around trying to clear the rights for materials and to make materials open access. What that means, in a very practical sense, is that when you go to our site, not only can you download and search these materials but you could also repurpose this content in any way you choose.”

One thing about the collection Spindler found especially intriguing were the pages of the newsletters that are in Japanese.

“I’m really interested to find out what they were saying,” he said, adding that figuring that out “would be an outstanding graduate student project or faculty research project. But ultimately, anyone globally can work with this material, which is part of the fun of doing this work.”

Collection highlights also include cartoons from the newsletters and special holiday editions. Spindler and colleagues have been gradually acquiring more materials over the years, and he said there’s a possibility they may reach out to the Arizona Historical Society in Papago Park, which has a color motion-picture film documenting the construction of the camps that would make a nice addition.

“So there’s still some other materials we can bring forward to make this a richer collection,” he said, “but ultimately I hope the project honors the sacrifice, honors the community and maybe in some small way apologizes for the terrible injustice of internment.”


Top photo: Rob Spindler, the archivist of special collections at ASU's Hayden Library, looks over copies of the Gila News-Courier in the Luhr's Reading Room on May 4. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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ASU Law workshops provide continuing education for attorneys and public alike.
June 9, 2017

Continuing Legal Education courses appeal to alumni while showing the public how law and justice intersect

Lawyers know how to talk, but what if they were trained what to say?

Scientists know exactly how people think, but what if they shared that information with people who could make the most use of it, and do it persuasively?

That was the thinking behind a recent science and law seminar at the Phoenix Convention Center, one of a series of silo-busting interdisciplinary workshops hosted by Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law that keeps attorneys sharp while offering the public a glimpse how law and the justice system intersects.

“ASU offers these programs to attorneys because we want to appeal to our alumni while staying connected to the lawyering community,” said Christopher G. Marohn, director of ASU Law’s Continuing Legal Education program. He added that Arizona attorneys are required to have 15 hours of continuing education credit every year by June 30, the end of their fiscal year.

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Christopher G. Marohn

Marohn said although their programs are designed for attorneys, they are open to the public to “inform society how laws are made and to give them a better understanding of how lawyers operate in society.”

It’s a philosophy that Phoenix attorney Wendy Laskin appreciates. Laskin, a sole practitioner who specializes in mental health, probate and elder law, has attended several of these programs.

“As an attorney I can go and get credit, but it also stretches my mind as a community member,” said Laskin, who attended sessions on the Fourth Amendment, firearms and immigration, providing her “with another set of knowledge.”

This approach fits in with ASU Law’s dedication to inclusiveness and the university’s interdisciplinary approach to problem solving that has led to collaborations between business and computer science, sustainability and poetry, and science and art

The Continuing Legal Education Program hosts approximately 40 seminars, conferences, workshops, and panel discussions a year, tackling issues such as the corporatization of the prison system, design and construction, negotiation strategies, data management and emerging technologies.

Marohn, a former public defender from California, selects the curriculum, which is a mix of traditional and topical subjects.

“I pick a lot of subjects based on what’s trending in the law,” Marohn said. “Sometimes we fly off the handle and see what’s fun to do.”

That was the thinking behind “The Corporatization of Criminal Justice,” which evolved from a casual conversation Marohn had with a friend over coffee.

The April 14 conference featured civil rights leader Benjamin Jealous and tackled issues arising from the for-profit prison system, claiming it has influenced the length and severity of sentences, disproportionately harming communities of color and contributing to social inequity and oppression.

Jane Dacey, who works for the Arizona-based non-profit called Abolish Private Prisons, helped coordinate the conference with Marohn after another law school fell through. She said the free conference was attended by approximately 100 attorneys, advocates and community members, and streamed to hundreds of others online.

“The conference went over well because it featured presenters with a different perspective on mass incarceration,” Dacey said. After the conference, Dacey said she often checks with ASU’s calendar listing because “the university has so many interesting things going on.”

Two weeks later the Continuing Legal Education program hosted, “The Science of Decision Making: Persuading Judges and Jurors,” featuring national experts and Nobel Prize-winning research on human decision-making in the courtroom when presented sophisticated scientific information.

“Courtroom persuasion is all about trying to anticipate how jurors and judges will think, feel and interpret the arguments they are presenting,” said Jessica Salerno, an assistant psychology professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences division of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, and a researcher with the newly established Program on Law and Behavioral Science.

Her April 28 seminar presentation “Hot and Cold: How Decisions are Affected by Emotions and Gore,” demonstrated the emotional impact that crime-scene photos, videos and documents can have on juries, often leading to anger and a rush to judgment.

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Jessica Salerno

“When we have negative emotions aroused, that might lead jurors to prosecution evidence and ignore the defense,” Salerno said. “Anger and disgust can lead people to want to more punishment, longer sentences and larger damages.” She said defense attorneys could reduce the emotions of a jury by forcing verbal testimony over video, presenting photographs in black and white rather than color and showing them at the end of the trial rather than at the beginning.  

For criminal law attorney Robert J. Weber, a member of ASU Law’s inaugural class, although he enjoys the “exciting and thought-provoking curriculum,” he said it’s mostly about staying connected to his alma mater.

“Even though I graduated in 1970, I like to stay in touch with the university,” Weber said. “ASU changed my life.”

The Continuing Legal Education Program will host the Great Adverse Depositions and Attacking the Liar's "I Don't Remember" seminar on June 30 at the Beus Center for Law and Society on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.