Hard History

Teaching the Japanese American Experience in American Concentration Camps


  • Daniel Kotzin William Jewell College




American concentration camps, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Japanese Americans, Stanley Hayami, Toyo Miyatake


How should “hard history” be confronted to understand the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II? This article shares a way of teaching this topic that not only confronts directly the real experiences of Japanese Americans in concentration camps but also humanizes the story. Encouraging students to learn the history experientially, the author uses two different sets of historical primary sources, offering both an “outsider” and “insider” perspective. First, the author explains that he focuses on the biographies and objectives of different photographers who took photos at Manzanar, highlighting how this context helps illuminate students’ perceptions and understanding of these photographs, revealing a larger story about the experience of Japanese Americans. Second, he describes how he incorporates the diary of Stanley Hayami, a Japanese American teenager interned at Heart Mountain who used his diary to retain agency within an oppressive system. Through an analysis of the diary with students, the author demonstrates how this diary captures the complexity of the Japanese American experience in American concentration camps.

Author Biography

Daniel Kotzin, William Jewell College

Daniel P. Kotzin is chair of the History Department at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. Specializing in American immigration and ethnic history, he currently is researching Irish American soldiers during the Civil War. Interested in the pedagogy of history teaching, he has also led several workshops on the teaching of American slavery. His book, Judah L. Magnes: An American Jewish Nonconformist, was published by Syracuse University Press in 2010.




How to Cite

Kotzin, D. (2023). Hard History: Teaching the Japanese American Experience in American Concentration Camps. Proceedings of the H-Net Teaching Conference, 1(1), 43–57. https://doi.org/10.33823/phtc.v1i1.174