Japanese American Internment Website Comparison

by I-Ting Emily Chu


Three websites for comparison:


Public history websites have been set-up to create accessible knowledge for a wide variety of audiences. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, the Library of Congress American Memory and the Smithsonian have all provided public history websites relating to the Japanese American experience around the time of World War II and Japanese American internment. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco dedicates an exhibit to the Evacuation and Internment of San Francisco Japanese, which displays The San Francisco News articles related to Japanese Americans during the first six months of 1942. The Library of Congress American Memory provides a special exhibit of Ansel Adam’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar. The Smithsonian also has an exhibit, called “A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans & the U.S. Constitution,” which covers the internment of Japanese Americans as well as history before internment and court cases that took place after internment. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco and the Ansel Adams exhibit at the Library of Congress American Memory both focus on specific sites, San Francisco and Manzanar, respectively. The Smithsonian, on the other hand, provides a much broader view on all Japanese Americans. Regardless of their specific focus, these sites all provide a more detailed look at Japanese American experiences.

Website Goals:

Each website also provides different information on the goals of the exhibit. For the Virtual Museum of the City San Francisco, the website claims its goal is “to bring the fabled history of San Francisco into the light of historical accuracy.” However it does not explain exactly what kind of fabled history it is trying to expose. The website also fails to explain how this exhibit helps to bring attention to San Francisco’s “fabled history.” The user is thus unprepared for understanding the purpose of the website. The Library of Congress American Memory website, on the other hand, provides information on their “About” page that describes the American Memory as “provid[ing] free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience.” The page also describes that these are all gathered from collections of the Library of Congress. The goals for this particular exhibit as part of American Memory is thus to display a collection of the Library of Congress that “document[s] the American experience” (“About” page ). The Ansel Adams exhibit also goes into further detail about the collection. The website provides information on Ansel Adams’ personal interest in Manzanar because of the internment of his parents’ longtime employee. The Smithsonian exhibit also gives detailed information on the goal of the website. However, the website takes a more personal approach by providing a curator’s statement. In her statement, Jennifer Locke Jones, the curator, explains how the website came about from a desire to provide an online exhibit of an already existing physical exhibit of the Smithsonian. The website thus provides enough information about the process of collecting these documents and its goal to find a different medium to display this history. All three sites provide a general goal, but the details and personal look provide the user with a much clearer idea of the purpose of the website and the exhibit.

Range of materials:

The focus of the exhibits shapes the amount and range of the materials found in the collection. For the Virtual Museum of the City San Francisco Internment exhibit, the exhibit focuses only on the newspaper articles that appeared in the first six months of 1942. The exhibit provides 68 article transcriptions. Some of these articles include photographs, but it is unclear whether these photographs were found in the newspaper or if the images were just added to the exhibit. The range of materials for the Ansel Adams exhibit is also limited because of the collection itself. The exhibit provides digital images of Ansel Adams’ original Manzanar prints and negatives, which includes 209 photographic prints and 242 negatives. The Smithsonian “A More Perfect Union,” on the other hand, provides more variety in the range of materials. The exhibit includes children’s drawings, photographs, oral history interviews, legal documents, and various other documents. The approximately 816 documents provided in the exhibit give the audience many different formats contributed by many individuals provide the user with a diverse look at Japanese American experience. Since the Smithsonian exhibit is not limited by the goals or the collection, it provides a much richer look at Japanese American experience that the other sites cannot provide.

Creators and audience:

While all the sites hope to reach a wide variety of audiences, the usability of the sites clearly make some sites more useful than others. The Virtual Museum of the City San Francisco is run under the direction of Gladys Hansen, the curator. However, the website fails to mention any others involved in the process of collecting or displaying these exhibits. The website does not list any scholars or staff members attached to the project, who could be accountable for the information provided. The internment exhibit is equally disappointing in the lack of credibility. Although transcriptions are provided of each article, there are no images of the actual newspapers and no information on where to find the images. This leads to a lack of credibility for the website and exhibit, which is neither useful for a researcher nor an average user. Although this information could potentially be useful, there is no way to verify that information. The Ansel Adams exhibit comes from a well-recognized institution, the Library of Congress, which automatically gives it a good amount of credibility. The website attempts to address different user needs. For the average user, the exhibit provides collection highlights, which displays thumbnails of some of the images. The lack of interactivity can be boring for an average user. The website is much more tailored for a researcher’s use. The amount of detail about the exhibit, including detailed information about the digitization of the collection, are more useful for a researcher as opposed to an average user. The exhibit also provides excessive metadata for each of the images, which would be helpful for a researcher. The “A More Perfect Union” exhibit also has automatic credibility since it is from the Smithsonian, another well-recognized institution. The exhibit also has a page for credits, which shows all the people responsible for contributing and displaying this online exhibit. The website also tries to cover a wide audience. For the researcher audience, the website provides some information on the document and where the document was obtained. The interactive features of the website are designed much more for the average users. The rich-media version allows the users to scroll and slide through the many sections of the exhibit. These three sites are thus more useful for some users more than others.

How documents are treated:

The display of the documents and available formats on each website also draws attention to the target audience for each website. As explained previously, the documents on the Virtual Museum of the City San Francisco are available only as transcriptions, which cannot be verified due to the lack of images of the actual newspapers. The images provided are only available in small displays without options for larger views. The images also lack information on where the images are from. The Ansel Adams exhibit, on the other hand, provides multiple display formats. The documents are most commonly displayed as thumbnail images. However, the images are also available in medium resolution JPEG format, a higher resolution JPEG format, and an uncompressed archival TIFF format. Each image is displayed as the final photograph with the negative of the print next to it, if a negative is available. Each image also includes a page with detailed metadata about the images. The multiple formats prove much more useful for a researcher than an average user. “A More Perfect Union” does not provide as many formats as the Ansel Adams exhibit, but it does provide a larger view of the image. The exhibit itself includes thumbnails of all images and documents, but the user can click on the images for more information. The pop-up page provides some information about the image and includes a link for a larger view of the images. The larger view is not much larger, but it can allow for a user to take a slightly closer look at the document. This type of view is much more useful for an average user, as opposed to a researcher. The available sizes of the documents and information about the documents thus determines the type of audience that the website is targeting.


While all three sites provide a search feature of some sort, the search options on the different sites make some more useful than others. The search on the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco website only allows the user to search the entire website. The user is not able to search within just the exhibit, which can be an unnecessary obstacle for a user with a specific search. The basic search and the advanced search also look exactly the same. The only difference between the search features is that the basic search searches the entire website for all the words, while the advanced search searches for the words as a phrase. The results of the search are also difficult to understand why certain pages will show up. The results that arise from the search for “children” provide links to different pages, but a closer look at the pages reveal no apparent link to children. The Ansel Adams exhibit search is much more useful. The exhibit allows the user to search within just that exhibit, as opposed to the entire Library of Congress American memory website. The website also provides “more search options,” which will allow the user to search the keywords as separate words or a complete phrase, or search the keywords in certain fields. These additional search options will help users who are searching for specific people, authors, or subjects. The search options for “A More Perfect Union” are the most helpful search of the three sites. The search features for “A More Perfect Union” give the user the option of searching for the keywords in different fields, themes, and locations. The fields, themes, and location options are all provided as drop-down menus with provided terms, which make the search easier for users. These search options make the site more accessible for various users.

Rating the sites:

While all three sites provide a different few of Japanese American life during World War II, the design of the websites make some more useful than others. The Virtual Museum of the City San Francisco website provides a unique look at the articles that from San Francisco in 1942. The site itself is unappealing since it lacks an interactive display. The website appears to be in a plain html format with few images. Overall, the lack of credibility of the site makes the website unusable as a resource for any audience. The Ansel Adams exhibit provides too many details, which is overwhelming for an average user. The website is much more directed towards a researcher, who is trying to use the images for her/his research. The collection highlights is a good introduction for an average user, but the lack of interactive features will quickly lose the attention of an average user. A researcher, on the other hand, will find the details and the information useful in her/his work. Overall, all users will find the site interesting, but researchers will find the site most useful. “A More Perfect Union” exhibit is also useful for various audiences, but an average user will find the site more useful. The interactive qualities and multiple formats keep the interest of the average user. The site also includes much more information, detailing the experience of Japanese Americans before internment and after. Overall, this site appeals to a user with little to no information about Japanese Americans. These three sites all provide an interesting perspective. However, only the Ansel Adams exhibit and “A More Perfect Union” prove to be useful and credible as trustworthy websites.

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