Daily Archives: December 1, 2023

Reparative Description of the Term “Internment” in SCARC

Contributed by Kevin Jones, Digital Collections and Metadata Archivist and Anne Bahde, History of Science and Rare Books Librarian

As part of our ongoing work to address racist, outdated, and inaccurate descriptive language in our finding aids, we recently looked at the use of the term “internment” and reviewed the descriptions in our collections for material related to Japanese and Japanese American incarceration in the United States during World War II. We relied heavily on the guidance and recommendations created by the Reparative Archival Description Task Force at Yale Library. This task force consulted with Japanese American community groups to identify preferred terms to replace terminology that was racist or erased the harm done to Japanese and Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II represented in archival collections. We highly recommend the use of these guidelines when undertaking similar work.

We reviewed the descriptions for seven collections in total. Several collections, such as the William H. Maas Scrapbook, the Hans Plambeck Papers, the Richard Y. Morita Papers, the Japanese-American Association of Lane County, Oregon, Oral History Collection, and the Rebecca Landis Papers, required fairly straightforward updating of legacy terms with alternative terms recommended from the Yale task force. Other collections, such as the Mildred and Frank Miles Scrapbook of the Santo Tomás Internment Camp, required more consideration of these terms within the context of the collection and the addition of more precise subject headings, such as Concentration camps — Philippines

Particularly regarding our collection of War Relocation Authority reports, the original descriptions in the finding aid mirrored the neutral social scientific language used in the reports. This “scientific” language erased the harm the incarceration and the act of researching imprisoned Japanese and Japanese Americans did to the prisoners. Following the guidelines, we attempted to replace existing language with recommended terms that more accurately reflects the damage done in and through these reports. “Internment” continues to show up in the finding aid where it is part of a formal name or title in keeping with the Yale guidance. This is both necessary because it is a matter of the historical record and also aids in research as many potential users have been educated using ‘internment’ as the reference term for Japanese American incarceration. We recognize that, while we attempted to be thorough, future revision to these and other descriptions may be necessary to further address as yet unrecognized bias. 

Internment subgroup: Kevin Jones, Digital Collections and Metadata Archivist; Anne Bahde, History of Science and Rare Books Librarian; Julie Judkins, Department Head