The idea for the CSUJAD project grew out of discussions between CSU archivists at the 2012 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists and the 2013 annual meeting of the Society of California Archivists. The talks centered not only on the digitization of primary source collections but also on the desire to create an all-encompassing portal for the materials that each CSU archive possesses.
Greg Williams, Director of Archives and Special Collections at CSUDH, took the lead by writing the grants, assuming the role of project director/principal investigator, and taking on the responsibility for the central hub for all CSUJAD grant projects.
In 2013, the CSUDH Archives and Special Collections applied for funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to begin a concerted effort to digitize CSU’s extensive holdings of Japanese American historical materials and to develop a web portal to deliver the content.
A Humanities Collections and Reference Resources (HCRR) planning grant was provided the following year to help with the formative stages of this initiative. The archives that were most eager to participate included the six CSU campuses with the most extensive holdings of historical materials related to Japanese American history and the WWII incarceration.
Before the end of this initial grant a year later, nine additional CSU campuses took an interest and contributed digitized archival materials, even though they were not part of the original grant proposal. After the pilot project was completed, NEH encouraged the CSU to apply for a full HCRR implementation grant, which was funded in 2016.
Meanwhile, this demonstration of collaboration and follow-through led to a second grant from the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites program to digitize more Japanese American materials, another 10,000 archival items (textual documents, images, etc.), and 100 oral histories.
This important seed funding led to expanded partnerships, new donations of archival items from the community and more crucial grant funding from a variety of granting agencies and foundations. This aggressive approach to project funding has resulted in more than 45,000 items being digitized and fully cataloged over seven years.
Among the most significant materials acquired since the CSUJAD project began is the Ninomiya Photo Studio Collection, which was first separated and then reunited through the use of social media. That is, after years of trying to figure out what to do with the work of this portrait and community photo studio located in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighborhood, Ninomiya family members were unable to find any institution willing to accept their collection of more than 100,000 prints and negatives.
Years later, when the building where the images were stored was being remodeled, a contractor found and saved the material. Rather than dumping the images, he placed an ad on Craig’s List trying to find a home for more than 40 years of photography. The collection was divided into at least three separate groups as interested parties took portions of the collection. One new owner wanted to digitize the images and create a website; another wanted the images for her daughter, who was interested in photography; and the third considered selling the images or scraping off the silver each print may have contained.
It took CSUDH’s Greg Williams five years to locate the Ninomiya materials from the three parties and acquire the photographs for the CSUDH Archives. The collection contains two generations of family and event photos from Little Tokyo and further afield in the Los Angeles area. There are more than 100,000 negatives and prints in the Ninomiya Collection within 15,000 packets (one packet per job). More than 10,000 of these items have been digitized and cataloged within the CSUJAD project.
A collection like Ninomiya demonstrates how an archival collection can resonate with the public, as well as the importance of connecting these works to the community. While the primary work of the project has been to digitize material to make it readily accessible, each grant has required additional educational and outreach work. This has included the creation of archival and art exhibitions (in-person and online), teacher and student workshops, lesson plans, user guides, classroom presentations, a book chapter, news releases, conference presentations, scanning days, and many other types of interactions with interested communities.
With the Ninomiya Collection, a collaboration with the CSUDH Praxis Program brought a visiting artist to explore the archival materials and lead workshops for high school and college students. They visited the archives and used the Ninomiya Photo Studio Collection materials creatively to develop an art exhibition and zine publication that expressed students’ reactions to the WWII incarceration. CSUDH continues to explore ways to involve the community in identifying people and events in the Ninomiya Collection that enhance the descriptive information for these materials.