April 3, 2024

Densho Project Archivist Will Allen has been helping to create Densho’s Legacy Archive, an archive of Densho’s organizational records since its founding in 1996. Will shares some highlights from this exciting new collection, and what they’ve learned about community archives after a deep dive into Densho’s history.

Fresh out of my MLIS program, I was given the opportunity to work on Densho’s organizational archive, the Densho Legacy Archive. The scope of the Legacy Archive covers 27 years from Densho’s founding in 1996, the year I was born, to 2023. The materials for this collection were primarily sourced from Densho founder Tom Ikeda’s desk and other sections of the Densho office. The collection is unique for Densho as it is stored in records cartons on-site as opposed to the web-based collections that exist on the Densho repository. Taken as a whole, the Densho Legacy Archive gives insight into the running of a successful community archive and preserves the efforts of the people at Densho that have provided access to Japanese American history.

One of the most interesting aspects of organizational archiving is being able to experience an organization’s growth to the present day through its records. The records in the Legacy Archive provide a through-line of Densho’s history from its initial conception as the Japanese American Legacy Project to the robust online repository it is today. These records include pictures of the opening gala at the Nippon Kan Theater in 1998, design documents for the first iterations of Densho’s website, early educational materials, and correspondence detailing the projects and issues Densho staff was tackling during its daily work. Each record shows what Densho was working on at the time, whether it was honoring Nisei veterans with a ceremony at Meany Hall in 2005 or working to raise funds at different golf auctions in the early 2000’s, just to name a few. All aspects of Densho’s work and mission are preserved in the Legacy Archive, and the photos currently available on the repository are just a glimpse of that work.

By preserving and presenting this history, the efforts of the people that work and have worked at Densho are made accessible as well. For example, one can get a behind the scenes look at an oral history interview led by Dana Hoshide, Alice Ito, or Matt Emery, or one can see photos from Densho’s trip to meet with the Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in 2008. Some of my favorite records in the collection show some light moments from Densho’s office. These include Tom giving his best Steve Jobs behind Scott Oki, a poster demonstrating the staff’s musical talents, and staff members giving Tom a gift basket onstage at the opening gala. Now that some of the photos in this collection are accessible online, viewers can get a sense of the hard work and passion that employees have put into Densho throughout the years.

The Legacy Archive was a fulfilling project to be able to tackle as an early career archivist. It was edifying to see the work that had to be done to create a well-run community archive and to start a collection out of those records. I hope the photos currently published on the Densho repository help people learn more about the kind of the work that happens at Densho and the history of the organization itself.

Crowd shot of Densho community members attending the Densho Opening Gala at the Nippon Kan Theater in Seattle in 1998.
The crowd at Densho’s opening gala at the Nippon Kan Theater. November 22, 1998. Courtesy of Densho.
Two Densho staff members looking at a printed photograph at a computer workstation, likely in the late 1990s.
Becky Fukuda and Stephen Fugita looking at photo at computer workstation. Courtesy of Densho.
Black and white photo of a Densho staff member interviewing a Japanese American couple.
Sheri Nakashima conducts an interview with Harvey and Edith Watanabe. Courtesy of Densho.
A Densho oral history interview in progress. A Japanese American man is seated facing the camera, and a Densho interviewer is sitting facing him with her back turned to the camera.
Oral history narrator Tsuguo “Ike” Ikeda and interviewer Alice Ito in 2000. Behind the camera and out of frame is Dana Hoshide, who was the videographer for Ikeda’s and many other Densho interviews. Courtesy of Densho.
Densho Founding Executive Director Tom Ikeda with a big smile.
Densho Founding Executive Director Tom Ikeda on a trip to meet with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in 2008. Courtesy of Densho.
Group photo of Densho's founding staff striking silly poses outside the Densho office in 1998.
Founding staff members strike a silly pose outside the Densho office in 1998. Back row, left to right: Midori Richard, Diane Sunada, Dana Hoshide, Erin Kimura, Sheri Nakashima, Alice Ito. Front row: Becky Fukuda, Unidentified, Larry Hashima, Tom Ikeda. Courtesy of Densho.
Densho co-founders Tom Ikeda and Scott Oki standing at a podium and laughing.
Tom Ikeda laughing while Densho co-founder Scott Oki speaks at the podium at a Japanese American Chamber of Commerce meeting. May 14, 1999. Courtesy of Densho.
Densho staff members on stage during the opening gala in 1998.
Staff members on stage during the Densho Opening Gala. November 22, 1998. Courtesy of Densho.

By Will Allen, Densho Project Archivist

Will Allen is originally from South Georgia and graduated from the College of William and Mary with a bachelor’s in history and government. They recently received their MLIS from the University of Washington. Will was inspired to pursue archiving after studying archival Southern queer history materials in their undergrad years and hopes to work on community archives projects and other history collections in the foreseeable future. Will is excited to be working with Densho and is looking to soak in all the knowledge they can about being a community archivist during their time helping to create the Legacy Archive.

This project was funded, in part, by 4Culture.