1/4/17 -The Legacy of Minidoka and the Work of Dr. Robert Sims

January 4, 2017

Editor’s Note:  Today’s post is courtesy of guest blogger Dr. Cheryl Oestreicher, Head, Special Collections, Boise State University.  You can read Dr. Oestreicher’s previous guest blog for SHRA here.  

As an archivist, I have a social responsibility to collect records that document all aspects of history, particularly underrepresented people, events, and organizations. Archival records serve to strengthen collective memory and protect people’s rights, property, and identity. I continually seek new collections that provide a foundation and resources for people to investigate, interpret, and understand the past. History is not always pleasant, and a recently opened collection about World War II Japanese Internment is an example.

February 19, 2017 will mark the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt about two months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. This order authorized the evacuation and relocation of 117,000 Japanese Americans. The Minidoka camp housed about 10,000 evacuees from August 10, 1942 – October 28, 1945. For decades, no one talked or wrote about this racially based incarceration.


Posting notices for Japanese internees

In the 1970s, Robert C. Sims, first Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs and Professor of History at Boise State University, discovered documents related to the World War II Minidoka Relocation Center for Japanese and Japanese Americans. For over 40 years, Dr. Sims researched and collected information about Minidoka and Japanese Americans by visiting archives, combing through scholarship, and speaking to internees and their families. The research was only the start, and he traveled extensively throughout Idaho and the Northwest to educate and raise awareness of this blemish on Idaho and US history. He spoke on topics such as medical care, governance, education, art, the response of local communities, internees’ military service, loyalty requirements, as well as the businesses, careers, and homes left behind during incarceration.

Bob Sims, classroom, History workshop on Japanese Internment camps, jk

Dr. Robert Sims teaching a history workshop on Japanese Internment camps

Dr. Sims saved and documented his research and presentations, which now encompasses 67 boxes and about 200 books. The collection contains reports, letters, photographs, articles, interviews, notes, speeches, presentations, correspondence, scholarship, maps, publications, and other materials by and about the people affected by the United States’ internment policy. Many of his papers are primary sources from the 1940s, but the collection also includes scholarship and documentation about what happened after internment, and how he and others strive to keep these memories alive. I am grateful to Betty and Sarah Sims who donated the collection to Boise State and recognized the importance of Dr. Sims’ lifelong dedication to preserving the memory and history of Minidoka and Japanese Americans.


The road into Minidoka

Collections contain stories waiting to be told. As an archivist, it is my job to preserve and facilitate access to anyone in the public interested in using his collection. But now, it is up to others to investigate what is in the collection and bring the knowledge to the world. I hope others will continue the legacy Dr. Sims left and help share the people, the stories, and the history of Minidoka and Japanese Americans.

For more information, contact Special Collections and Archives, archives@boisestate.edu.

— Cheryl Oestreicher, Ph.D.