Densho Digital Repository
Reviewed by: Lola Shehu-Endo
Review started: February 16, 2021
Review finished: April 18, 2021
Data and Sources
- Recorded interviews, photographs, newspapers, documents, and letters related to the Japanese American incarcerations experience
- The team recorded oral histories from Japanese Americans and in the process collected photographs, documents, and other primary sources
- Oral histories have been segmented by topics and are accompanied by metadata and transcripts
- All data have been digitized, categorized for search, and made public in the repository
- Stills from high-quality videos of oral histories and images of archive items are highlighted on the landing page, and visitors are given the option to browse the collection as it is categorized, or search for items
Digital Tools Used to Build It
- The archive employs Qumulo (proprietary storage platform) and open-source software Python, Django, Debian, and Joey Hess for git-annex
This project is created and maintained by Densho, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle, Washington, whose mission is “to preserve and share history of the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans to promote equity and justice today.” The team for the Densho Digital Repository is composed of the Densho staff of social scientists, librarians, and program managers, led by a director with a technology background.
The Densho Digital Repository was designed to provide the long-term preservation and public access to the growing digital archives collected as part of Densho’s mission to collect, preserve, and share the history of the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans. The archive is public and accessible to the public, and most of the materials in the repository and vast majority of interviews are available under Creative Commons license. This project does not only serve the Japanese American community, but any local community that was touched by the incarceration of Japanese Americans, the American public, and researchers. The rise of right-wing extremism in the world in the past few years highlights how essential the preservation of marginalized voices is, and also how important they are to the public at large and the preservation of democracy.
The repository contains more than the Densho archive; it is a comprehensive and growing platform that includes the digital collections of other institutions. Collaborating with other institutions does more than grow the archive; it ensures its long-term survival and preservation. The repository also engages the community through participation by recruiting volunteers and through the user-friendly access to materials. The search and citation instructions are very clear, making them user-friendly to a wider range of students. This ease of access and community engagement also helps assure the long-term preservation of this project.
The design of the site also draws the visitor immediately into the high-quality videos of oral histories and materials that are highlighted in the landing page. This accessibility is why I was most drawn to this archive more than any on our list, which made me consider accessibility issues. I ran the repository site through WAVE, which revealed very few language errors. WAVE is a suite of evaluation tools that helps authors make their web content more accessible to individuals with disabilities. The only recurring issue with the site was low contrast, which is apparently a design choice that also helps navigation by minimizing elements on a particular page. I found that this was resolved by highlighting the text, but it might be difficult for some. There is a discernible effort to render every part of this site accessible to both researchers and the general public, and it works. This is a tremendously ambitious project, but the collaborative, open approach, and community engagement at both the institutional and individual level makes it a success.