Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ron Swanson at the CJAHS archive?

Today's post will be my last for the semester. However it will not be the last forever. I will continue working at the archive next year after the holidays. Either way, I decided to dedicate this post to a fun discovery we made at the archive.

As I was working on organizing the many hundreds of photos we have in the archive, I can across a large batch of photos from the 1990's. These included photos from community events during the 90's as well as some personal photos from Japanese Americans in Chicago. Although these photos might not be as striking as the ones from the WWII period and the 1800's, they are equally as important to the archive as a means of recoding the activities of the community.

The photos were mostly out of ordered and I had to separate them into different groups based on the content pictured. It was obvious that many of the photos were from the same events so I categorize them as such. Some included information about their donator or origin, so I made sure to keep that information with the groups. I also consulted the President when I could not recognize a person in the photo that she might know.

Anyway, as I was going through these I came across a photo of a heavily mustachio'd man pictured in a full traditional Japanese outfit with some kids also in kimono. At first I just started to pile the photo with some others like it, but then I realized that the man looked eerily familiar. Upon a second inspection I realized that the man looked strikingly similar to Nick Offerman, who plays a major role as Ron Swanson on the hit show Parks and Recreation.

As I searched through the collection I found several more with the same Ron Swanson/ Nick Offerman doppelganger. I was shocked. The more I searched, the more ridiculous it seemed. I found a photo of this doppelganger posing outrageously with a topknot wig and fake sword.

I could not believe what I was seeing, and decided to look up Nick Offerman's biography when I returned home. I found out that Nick Offerman was actually living in Chicago during the 1990's as Chicago is a mecca for American comedians. With this new information I could not help but think that this could be Nick Offerman himself. I've decided to send Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler these photos to discover if he had some relationship with the Japanese American community during the 90's or if this is simply a doppelganger. Nonetheless, I am sure that they will be as amused with these photos as I was. 

Although work at the archive can sometimes be less than exciting, odd discoveries like these add a new element to our experience. The historically significant and stunning photos that we come across are always stimulating and we are honored to be in the presence of such objects. We also are happy to find strange discoveries like this one, reminding us that no matter how heavy some of the subject matter at the archive might be, these objects are all the products of real lives and real people. And no life is complete without some goofy fun.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Assessing Progress

Since I will be away over winter break,  I returned to work at the archive today to make sure that all of our latest projects are completed, or at least organized so that when we return, starting our work again will be simple and straightforward. Even between weekends, restarting where we left off can be difficult because most tasks are fairly long and require mental organization to complete. Often I will leave notes to myself about my progress and the necessary next steps. Although I sometimes think that writing out notes wastes time that could be used to work directly on the archive, when I return to my notes I realize that the effort is well worth it. During this session I organized our workspace so that the status of our current projects would be obvious.
When we began work at the archive, all of the objects needed to be re - accessioned, so evaluating our current work's status was simple. Nothing was completed or even in progress. Today, however, our work is much farther along than it was before. Keeping track of the position of every item is now a crucial part of our work. Each object and document goes through 3 major stages. First the item is re - storaged  into  protective materials and new boxes. Then the object is accessioned into the computer. A position in the archive is found for the object. This position's location is recorded into the object's file. The accession number is attached to the object and it is finally placed in the correct spot. Often packaging is much faster than accessioning so items may become backlogged. Also, sometimes we may have a very valuable object that needs to be accessioned as soon as possible to ensure that it does not become lost, or lose its information, but we might not have the best packing material for this object yet. There are many instances where the process may become stalled or backed up. We must be careful to watch the status of each object so that we do not lose any valuable information during the process.
There are many minor details that go into maintaining our work at the archive. The overall project requires artful directing and procedural organization, but a major bulk of the work on the archive is done through small tasks. Although we have have grand ideas for the future of the archive, we only can reach these goals through small slow steps. Knowing when and how to appropriately stop a project is one of the ways that we are able to reach our greater goals at the archive effectively. Today was devoted to assessing the current state of these projects so that a break from the archive will not mean that we lose track of our progress. A majority of the work at the archive is organization, but I've always had the habit of organizing even when its not needed so I've enjoyed my time working here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My favorite archive objects...

Today I decided to do a summarized list of the objects from the archive that have had the most profound affect on us.

I would say that first on the list is the Purple Heart awarded to Tom Arai for his valiant efforts during the second World War. I learned that during WWII they created the largest amount of Purple Hearts for any given period because of the expectation that the war would call upon men in ways that no other had before. They produced so many that today, the Purple Hearts that are awarded to soldiers are mostly still from the same batch. It was striking to see this Purple Heart because it was one of the first of its lot, and awarded during the period it was meant for. The connection between all these Purple Hearts also makes us realize that no matter what time or what battle, all of these soldiers are bound together by their courage.
It was also striking to see this object in person, because it solidified many of the things I have learned about the actions of Japanese Americans during the complicated and tumultuous time that defined WWII across the globe and within the United States. I have always heard of the admirable acts of loyalty by Japanese Americans in the face of fear, but only when I saw the Purple Heart did that fact come to be so significant for me. It was the actions of individuals, and their noble character that made up the history of all Japanese Americans.

My second favorite objects were the artifacts from the camps. The small handcrafted birds from Topaz and other internment camps were significant because they are physical proof of the resilience of Japanese Americans who were interned.
These artifacts also add to the significance of Arai's Purple Heart, because it shows the full range of experience of Japanese Americans during the war. It was also very interesting to see the differences between the different birds as it shows the development of an individual's art and the change in their personal expression. Although these concepts are more like those you would encounter in art history, I think they apply to any individual artist. It is also interesting that the artist chose to depict birds that are not native to the area where they were interned. I liked these because they gave a real physical context to the experiences of Japanese Americans in the camps that I had only heard or read about before.

A few objects that we recently found in the archive are athletic uniforms from Japanese American Chicagoans who migrated to the Midwest after being released from the Internment Camps. These objects are significant to Japanese American history as they represent the activities of the Japanese Americans as a community after being displaced by the forced relocation and internment.
It is inspiring to see the ambition of Japanese Americans to establish a strong and unified community in Chicago after their great losses. Although many of the Japanese Americans that moved to Chicago never imagined living in this city, their efforts to build a true community can be seen throughout their history in Chicago. Since the Japanese American community is much larger on the West Coast in cities like L.A. I always considered these places to be the meccas of Japanese American culture. After working with so many objects from Japanese Americans in Chicago, I now have a greater appreciation for our community here. 

It may look backwards, but it opens up like a classic
Japanese book from left to right
The last objects I will include in this post are the many family album collections from Chicago Japanese Americans. These are all very nicely put together, and kept in very good condition. They usually include photos of family members in Japan around the turn of the century. Very few include recent pictures of the family that owns the album. It seems to be reserved for old pictures of Japanese ancestors. 

These books are very well organized and made from high quality paper making our accessioning process very easy, as we do not have to worry about the storage of the photos. My family does not have many photos of our ancestors as our family's migration to the United States occurred many generations ago. Seeing these photos of other Japanese families who have relocated to Chicago like my own are especially interesting. Most of the photos depict humble farm - tending families, as most of the Japanese people that sought to migrate to the U.S. were from humble backgrounds. Some however, appear to be more affluent, or have very extensive families with many children and grandparents. These are intriguing  because they show the diverse backgrounds of Japanese American families.