The Barracks Exhibit at Manzanar

A cot with laundry hanging over it inside a recreated barracks
The exhibit recreated the harsh conditions that Japanese Americans endured in camp living spaces.
1. Civic engagement enriches the processes of history. Building relationships with formerly incarcerated Japanese Americans and their families and peers took time and patience. The result? The exhibit provided a unique stage for these individuals to speak openly and publicly about their experiences during World War II and to share those experiences with others. These narratives intertwined and complemented the site and historical artifacts.

2. We need to look beyond the archive. Manzanar’s historical record rests in the personal archives of those who spent time in the confinement camp. In addition to traditional archival research, staff reviewed and digitized letters, diaries, scrapbooks, artwork, and artifacts loaned or donated by people who had first-hand knowledge of life at the camp.

3. Exhibits can empower new voices. Manzanar has conducted oral history interviews with Japanese Americans, camp staff, and local residents to create an audible link that illuminates the past and connects it with the present.

4. Historical thinking can be life-changing. Many formerly incarcerated Japanese Americans had never shared the full stories of their time at Manzanar until interviewed by park rangers. These oral histories were fundamental to the development of the exhibit and provided an opportunity for empathy and catharsis. Interviewees experienced powerful emotions and expressed profound gratitude that the site was documenting and sharing their stories, their history.

5. What’s past is present again. The Barracks Exhibit captures a very particular conflict in our nation’s history. Yet, this California desert outpost established in the 20th century now has very real connections to our society. Japanese American internment during WWII resonates with contemporary debates over civil rights and liberties.


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