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Korean American Digital Archive

University of Southern California
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Reviewed by:
Brian Platt
George Mason University

This site brings together thousands of primary materials relating to the experience of Koreans in the United States between 1903 and 1965. It includes documents compiled by Korean American organizations (such as the Korean National Association and the Korean Chamber of Commerce), the personal papers of individual Korean Americans, more than 1,900 photographs, and around 180 sound files containing interviews with Korean Americans. Most of the original documents that have been digitized on the site are held in the East Asian Library at the University of Southern California; some private records not held at the library have also been included.

The site is relatively simple to use. From the home page, click on one of several collections available on the site (such as the collection of the Korean National Association, private records, or oral interviews) to find a full listing of the documents within each collection. This is probably the best way to begin an exploration of the site, as it allows one to get an overall sense of the kinds of documents available. The collections can also be accessed through the site’s search function, which allows users to search by keyword across collections or to choose a specific collection. After retrieving items via the search function, users can view an enlarged image of the item or, in the case of interviews, listen to the sound file containing the interview. The documents have been scanned at a high resolution, so they are easily readable after they have been enlarged.

The site’s title—”Digital Archive”—is appropriate, as it has a distinctly archival feel to it. The site recreates the experience of opening dusty boxes of documents and sifting through piles of old papers and photographs. And, even if one opens the boxes with the narrow goal of finding a single document or a specific piece of information, one ends up spending hours viewing unrelated but fascinating items. The materials here run the gamut from organizational memos and other official documents to personal letters, wedding programs, birth certificates, and social security check stubs.

There are many primary materials available in print that enable teachers and students to examine the human, personal dimension of the history of Asian Americans. What makes this site remarkable, however, is that it permits students to do their own archival research. Using the documentary evidence, photographs, and interviews available on this site, they can piece the life histories of individual Korean Americans. They will find individuals like Soon Hyun, an activist in the Korean resistance movement against Japanese colonialism in 1919, who later moved to the United States and became a minister in Hawaii. Or Florence Ahn, a Korean-American who became a prominent singer in Los Angeles (and who can be found standing next to Jack Benny in one of the photographs on the site). Instructors might, for example, ask students to identify a single individual and, using the materials on the site, create a multimedia biography of that individual—ideally, a biography that places the individual within the larger story of Asian American history. Because it makes such an assignment possible, this site is an invaluable tool when attempting to engage students in the actual production of history.

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