Learning with Primary Sources: Examining Multiple Perspectives of the WWII Japanese American Incarceration
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The story of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans provides students with the opportunity to learn from a challenging time in our country's history--and to apply the lessons learned to issues of today. This content is explored through the analysis of primary source materials and purposeful thinking.


Part One - Introducing the Story


Examine a political cartoon using the Thinking Routine, "Zoom-in."

Engage student thinking by showing an image--a little bit at a time. By starting with a piece of an image, an interesting thing happens--you look more closely, and you notice small details that often get lost when viewing the whole image. Students start to think about what the the image could be, raising evidence for their ideas, then seeing with each reveal if their thinking is confirmed or if with new information, their thinking changes.

>> Zoom-in Activity (Requires Microsoft PowerPoint)
>> Zoom-in Thinking Routine description (Requires Microsoft Word)

>> See-Think-Wonder Thinking Routine description (alternative to Zoom-in) (Requires Microsoft Word)


Additional sample images to use with Zoom-in or See-Think-Wonder
Political Cartoons (Requires Microsoft Word)
Ansel Adams Collection (Requires Microsoft Word)
Dorothea Lange Collection (Requires Microsoft Word)
George Ochikubo Collection (Requires Microsoft Word)


Part Two - Deepening Understanding of the Story


Examine a government newsreel with the Thinking Routine, "Explanation Game."

One of the biggest challenges of studying history is being able to think like those who lived at the time of the event. By doing this, students can begin to understand the reasoning behind decisions that were made during WWII, that seem so wrong to us today. Viewing the WWII government newsreel provides the opportunity to practice this type of thinking. By selecting just one aspect of the newsreel, students can focus in, and raise possible explanations for what seems perplexing. Compare this to current issues to note any similarities or differences.

>> Explanation Game Thinking Routine description (Requires Microsoft Word)
>> Connect-Extend-Challenge Thinking Routine description (alternative to Explanation Game) (Requires Microsoft Word)
Government Newsreel
Government Newsreel download (QuickTime)


Examine oral histories with the Thinking Routine, "Color-Symbol-Image"

Listening to the stories of real people draws students in, and exposes them to a perspective not often included in textbooks. It touches their emotional, as well as their intellectual understanding. By connecting a color, a symbol, and an image to the interview--along with an explanation of their choices, students can make their thinking and understanding visible.


>> Color-Symbol-Image Thinking Routine description (Requires Microsoft Word)
Video Excerpts from oral histories
Akiko Kurose tells how as a teenage girl in Seattle, she suddenly felt her "Japaneseness" after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Akiko Kurose download (QuickTime)

Gordon Hirabayashi describes how as a college student he decides to defy the government curfew and exclusions orders.
Gordon Hirabayashi download (QuickTime)

Rudy Tokiwa describes the aftermath of the Rescue of the Lost Battalion.
Rudy Tokiwa download (QuickTime)
>> Transcript Excerpts (Requires Microsoft Word)

Part Three - Exploring Complex Issues and Dilemmas of the Story


The impulse today is to look back at World War II and wonder how the government could have incarcerated over 110,000 innocent Japanese Americans. By examining this issue through a diverse selection of primary source documents, students can begin to understand multiple perspectives and see the complexity involved in analyzing this historic event. This process is divided into three phases:



Examine a primary source document with the Thinking Routine, "Word- Phrase-Sentence."
Understanding a primary source document from the past goes beyond reading, and requires delving into analysis. By distilling the essence of a document to a sentence, a phrase, and a word, students are pushed to think about the core ideas presented by the author. Discussing and comparing their ideas with others deepens their understanding further.


>> Word-Phrase-Sentence Thinking Routine description (Requires Microsoft Word)
>> Sample documents (Requires Microsoft Word)



Examine a primary source document with the Thinking Routine, "Claim, Support, Question."
Authors of primary source documents have a specific point of view. In this case, authors were responding to the question of whether Japanese Americans who lived on the West Coast in 1942 were a security threat to the country. Key to the strength of an author's argument is the reasoned evidence he/she provides. Students identify the author's claim, and most importantly, provide the evidence or support for this claim.


>> Claim-Support-Question Thinking Routine description (Requires Microsoft Word)


Examine several primary source documents with the Thinking Routine, "Tug for Truth."
Public policy issues are rarely black and white. Students begin to understand the complexity of this by comparing several primary source documents that represent different perspectives. Instead of arguing for or against a particular claim, students organize all the documents along a continuum according to the strength of each stance. This expands their thinking, and prepares them to take a reasoned position on the issue.


>> Tug for Truth Thinking Routine description (Requires Microsoft Word)
>> I used to think . . . ., but now I think . . . Thinking Routine description (Requires Microsoft Word)


Additional Resources

Newspapers in Education Supplement (Requires Adobe Reader)

Reading: WWII Incarceration of Japanese Americans (Requires Microsoft Word)


Map of Confinement Sites

Historical Overview Videos

  • Prewar Japanese American Community
  • Aftermath of Pearl Harbor
  • Removal and Incarceration
  • Righting a Wrong

  • Prewar Japanese American Community download (QuickTime)
  • Aftermath of Pearl Harbor download (QuickTime)
  • Removal and Incarceration download (QuickTime)
  • Righting a Wrong download (QuickTime)
  • Quick Facts about the Japanese American incarceration (Requires Microsoft Word)

    Terminology - Words Shape Our Understanding of History

    Glossary of Terms (Requires Microsoft Word)

    Historical Thinking (Requires Microsoft Word)

    Thinking Routines: An Overview (Requires Microsoft Word)

    Definition of a Primary Source (Requires Microsoft Word)

    Related Common Core Standards (Requires Microsoft Word)

    Slideshow from Teacher Workshop (See Densho Education Resource CD. To order, fill out our online form. )


    Links to Other Resources from the Densho Website

    Densho Encyclopedia

    Densho Digital Repository of Historic Photographs, Documents, and Newspapers



    Special thanks to Ron Ritchhart and Harvard Project Zero's Visible Thinking Project for the use of thinking routines. To learn more, www.visiblethinkingpz.org or Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners by Ron Ritchhart, Karin Morrison and Mark Church, published by Jossey-Bass, 2011.

    This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

    This material received federal financial assistance for the preservation and interpretation of U.S. confinement sites where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, the U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability or age in its federally funded projects. If you believe you have been discriminated against in any program, activity or facility as described above, or if you desire further information please write to: Office of Equal Opportunity, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20240.

    Support was also provided by 4Culture, the cultural services agency for King County, Washington.

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