Digital History

Archiving and Commemorating Japan’s Triple Disaster

Radiation hotspot in Kashiwa, Japan, February 2012
Radiation hotspot in Kashiwa, Japan, February 2012

On 11 March three years ago, the Tōhoku region of northeastern Japan was struck by a ‘triple disaster’ of a massive earthquake, a devastating tsunami and the resulting meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, the world’s worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl.

Alongside responses to the human and environmental impact of these three interlinked disasters, historians also sprung into action to preserve, restore and provide access to important historical materials. To mark the third anniversary of the 3.11 disaster, History Workshop Online asked Nick Kapur and John Morris to write about two projects that they have been centrally involved in.

The Japan Disasters Digital Archive, initiated by Harvard University’s Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and bringing together a range of partner organisations, sought to capture the vast amount of ‘born digital’ content produced in the aftermath of the disaster. It also developed unique tools to map and provide user interactivity with these materials. Nick Kapur is the project manager of the archive and a postdoctoral fellow at the Reischauer Institute. His article on their work is here.

The Miyagi Shiryō Net is a ten year old network of historians, local government officials and members of the community that recognised the fragility of Japan’s historical records, which are often located in private collections and are susceptible to damage caused by Japan’s geological fragility. In the aftermath of 3.11, members utilised the extensive community-building work that had been done over the previous decade to identify at-risk collections and intervene where possible to salvage, repair and/or document these materials. John Morris is a director of the network and a professor at Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University. His article on their activities is here. The network’s English language materials are in the process of being updated, so check back at their site for more details about the work of the network in coming months.

The work of these two organisations in the aftermath of such large-scale devastation highlight the important role that historians can play as communities prepare for and recover from transformative historical events.

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