Visualizing Japanese-American Internment: Using Images to Teach Difficult Details

Friday, January 8, 2010: 3:10 PM
Manchester Ballroom H (Hyatt)
Jennifer D. Keene , Chapman University, Orange, CA
Visualizing Japanese-American Internment: Using Images to Teach Difficult Details

This presentation focuses on the pedagogical uses of photographs in the classroom, emphasizing the ways instructors can use images to help students understand photographs as subjective pieces of evidence that need to be understood within historical context. Instructors can accomplish this by using photographs to create a visual timeline that makes chronology meaningful, exploring the motives of the photographer in taking certain images, the message transmitted by particular images through their composition and symbolism, and the way that a caption might or might not help a viewer understand an image. 

I will look specifically at the photographs that Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and Toyo Miatake took to document the process of interning Japanese-Americans during World War II.  Comparing the images of the three photographers demonstrates how photographs can help give a sense of chronology as well as hone critical thinking skills. Rather than photographing a static moment, these photos reveal the evolving nature of the experience, the changing political climate, and the ways in which photographs shaped the internment experience. They help reveal the agency of internment camp victims, as well as the role of government censorship, in creating different historical narratives about the experience. Overall, photographs can serve as a useful teaching tool to instruct students in the complexities of history and how to decipher historical evidence.

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