Densho Digital Archive
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Title: Frank Miyamoto Interview III
Narrator: Frank Miyamoto
Interviewer: Stephen Fugita
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 29, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-mfrank-03-0016

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SF: So, maybe we could go back a second and talk a little bit about the structure of J.E.R.S., and how it came about and...?

FM: The...?

SF: The Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study.

FM: Oh, study. Yes.

SF: Yeah, a little bit about Dorothy Swaine Thomas as a principal investigator, and so forth.

FM: Well Dorothy Swaine Thomas was Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1942 when the evacuation came. She was a lone figure on the campus because there was no Department of Sociology at that time. There was, in fact, hostility on the Berkeley campus against developing a Department of Sociology there, her own field. So she's the single sociologist out of Berkeley, but a very prominent one, nationally. Her field was migration. And therefore, she became interested in the evacuation as a forced migration, and the question of what would happen to people who were driven out of an area, and forced to move because of the evacuation. At least that was her alleged interest in the event. She also had students like Tom Shibutani who were taking courses from her, who approached her on the idea of doing studies of the Japanese community before the evacuation, as a term paper subject matter. And that was how she got drawn into a steady interest in this kind of thing. She therefore -- and being a person of stature, she had access to organizations like the Social Science Research Counsel, to get support for a project that would follow the evacuation. And having gotten funds, she also lined up a number of the most prominent anthropologists, political scientists, and so on on the Berkeley campus, and organized the study. She then got in touch with people like myself and others who might be willing or interested in participating in the study. And...

SF: Did she get your name from Steiner, or how did you get to...?

FM: Oh, yes.

SF: 'Cause, since you were up here in Washington...?

FM: Yeah. And going back to my master's thesis, I think that she knew about me from that social solidarity study, because it was published, as I told you, with Steiner's assistance. And having gotten that piece, she then got in touch with Steiner, whom she knew, and with Cal Schmid, who's also in demography at the University of Washington, whom she knew. And through them got the recommendation that I would be a good person to work with them on this study, and that's how I got drawn into the project. So, in our case, we had to go down from "Camp Harmony," Puyallup, down to Tule Lake, because that's where the headquarters of the research project was to be. And she drew several people from the Cal student population -- Japanese Americans -- into the project at Tule Lake. Also in certain other camps like, Gila River and Poston, where some of the others, the Cal students, went. Anyway, we got organized in Tule Lake, she would come up every now and then to supervise the project. And her husband -- who was the famous W. I. Thomas -- would come with her, and they would join us at the camp and we would discuss the ideas of the research project.

I think some of us were distressed from the outset that Dorothy Thomas' approach to the project was different from what we had learned was the way sociology research ought to be conducted. Our notion of research was to have some idea of what our attention should be concentrated on, and that there might be some hypotheses or theories that we would work from, in organizing the project. Whereas Dorothy Thomas turned out to be -- well, she was out of her field in a sense, in this project, because her background is essentially quantitative. And if she had had quantitative data to work with why, she would have been fine. But this is a non-quantitative study, qualitative research of more of an anthropological kind, for which she was very poorly equipped. However, her orientation was that of an empiricist. That is, she has always believed that the way to do research is to get data that you could -- hard facts so to speak -- from which you could make some analyses. Whereas in the sociology textbooks we were being, as graduate students, we were taught that the way to do research was to have some theories or ideas with which to develop hypotheses. And that you would focus your attention then, on these hypotheses. This is the kind of approach that Dorothy Thomas disdained. So her idea was go in there, and look for whatever appeared to be of importance, and make notes on those observations. The observations then, which we would write down, would then become the hard data, the hardest data available to her, from which then, she would make her analyses ultimately. So, the instruction she gave us was, go in there and look for whatever appeared to be significant events, and significant activities in the community. And write up those things. One of our researchers at one of the camps who was of anthropological background said she felt like a foreign correspondent. Because all she did was make observations and write down notes, but there was nothing very systematic in the way that the research was going on, and she felt very distressed about the way the research functioned.

In many ways, however, there was no possibility of doing things other than the way that Dorothy Thomas encouraged us to work. Namely for us to decide for ourselves, what was important, and then to go and make observations such as we could, on those events. If it had been possible to carry out survey research and have polling questions for example, that would have been very nice, especially for someone like Dorothy Thomas, who loves to work with statistics. But that was just simply an impossibility at the center. And furthermore, given that no one knew what would turn out to be of significance at these camps, in a sense, the idea that you should go out and each person decide for himself what was of interest and importance, was not an... was not such a bad idea in itself, simply because there was no way of of knowing ahead of time, what kind of hypotheses or theories would work as research subject matter. But anyway, I can say that Dorothy Thomas' approach distressed most of us because we had the feeling that we were just kind of floundering in our research, trying to decide for ourselves what to do research on. However, each of us in our own way gathered information about whatever interested us, and we'd write it up and send it in as daily journals to Dorothy Thomas.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.