Teaching Guide: Exploring Japanese American Internment During World War II

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Japanese American Internment During World War II, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Use the painting by Henry Sugimoto and the poster created by the US War Production Board to explain how the attack on Pearl Harbor transformed Japanese Americans from citizens into enemies in the eyes of the US government and the American public.
  2. Considering the column from the Manzanar Free Press, explain how the media portrayed and explained Japanese American internment. What impact might these portrayals have had on the Japanese Americans who read them?
  3. Closely examine the photograph of a Japanese-owned store, the photograph of a Japanese American woman arriving at Tanforan Racetrack, and the letter from Kenji Okuda. What was the process of relocation like for Japanese Americans? What did they give up? How did non-Japanese Americans, like the teacher who wrote the letter about “Jimmie”, respond to their removal?
  4. Read the War Relocation Authority pamphlet. How did the War Relocation Authority justify the need for Japanese relocation? What biases does this pamphlet reveal? Who was the audience for this pamphlet? What impact might it have had on its audience?
  5. How do the photograph of the Hirahara family, the photograph of students, and photograph of barracks depict daily life in the internment camps? What do they tell us about conditions and resources at the camps?
  6. What story do the resolution passed by the Japanese American Citizens League, the instruction sheet for internee repatriation, and the photograph of Nisei soldiers together tell about the issue of loyalty for Japanese Americans during the internment period? How did the questions of loyalty impact different generations of Japanese Americans (Issei and Nisei) differently? What role did organizations like the Japanese American Citizens League play within the Japanese American community?
  7. How did the experience of the camps irrevocably change the lives of interned Japanese after World War II? Consider the event described in the poster advertising a community forum. What issues might this community forum have addressed? How does the imagery of the poster support your ideas?

Classroom activities

The geography of Japanese internment had a huge impact on the individual experiences of internees. Look at a map of the relocation centers. Divide students into small groups to do further research about one relocation center: Rohwer, Jerome, Granada, Heart Mountain, Poston, Topaz, Manzanar, Tule Lake, Minidoka, or Gila River. Students should organize a presentation with visuals about the experience of life at their chosen camp by answering the following questions:

  • How long was the camp open? What had the site been used for prior to World War II?
  • Where did internees at this camp come from within the exclusion area?
  • What were climate and terrain conditions like at this camp? What challenges did these conditions pose for internees?
  • What did internees do for work?
  • What evidence do we have to support our understanding of life in this camp?

Use images and documents from DPLA to support the presentation.

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