Smithsonian Launches Online Exhibition "A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution"

November 7, 2001

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will launch an online exhibition, titled "A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution" ( on Nov. 8 to examine the events surrounding Japanese American internment during World War II. The Web site explores the frailty of individual rights balanced with the need for national security in times of national crisis, issues that, following the Sept. 11 attacks, have been brought to the forefront of national consciousness.

During the opening months of World War II, almost 120,000 Japanese Americans, most of them citizens, were sent to detention camps set up by the U.S. government. The online exhibition complements and expands on the museum’s permanent exhibition that was created as part of the commemoration of the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution in 1987.

"A More Perfect Union" traces the history of Japanese American confinement from immigration in the late 19th century to court cases and redress that came more than 40 years after the end of the detention in 1946. The Web site contains more than 800 artifacts related to the Japanese-American experience, including archival photos, publications, original manuscripts, artworks and other objects. Users are able to explore and experience the online site much in the same way they would the physical exhibition. Or, choosing to skip the chronological order, a visitor can enter a category, ranging from immigration to military service, and scroll across panels filled with photographs, artifacts, documents, first-person audio and text accounts, and historical perspectives. Visitors may also choose to search the collections, viewing objects individually.

"With the United States engaged in a war against terrorism - a war with no borders - we have to look to history to help us understand that individual rights and civil liberties will once again be tested," said Jennifer Jones, a military history curator at the museum. Jones worked on both the original exhibition and served as a co-curator of the Web exhibit.

The heart of the online exhibition is a section of primary subject areas that explore the military exploits, Constitutional crises, cultural history, and issues of identity and loyalty tied to the internment of Japanese Americans. Within the military section, the site looks at the thousands of men who served in the segregated 100th and 442nd military units.

A special "Reflections" section invites visitors to share their thoughts on the site, memories of World War II and internment, and feelings about why internment took place. This portion also contains space for visitors to voice feelings about September 11 and how the events that took place that day compare to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The resources segment provides links to related material and contains activities for elementary, middle and high school teachers to help explain internment, its circumstances and impact on American life.

"This Web site will have ongoing significance because it demonstrates the process of incorporating immigrant groups into American society and the rich history of these groups," said Franklin Odo, director of the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Program. "It also demonstrates the need to anchor our beliefs and behaviors in the Constitution. This exhibition looks at a time in our history when racial prejudice and fear tipped the delicate balance between citizen rights and the power of the state," he added.

Odo served as one of the curators for the online exhibition and recently accepted a curatorial appointment at the museum. He continues as director of the Asian Pacific program.

The online exhibition was made possible by grants from the Rockefeller and AT&T Foundations. It was produced in conjunction with Second Story Interactive Studios.


The National Museum of American History traces American heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and technological history. Collections are displayed in exhibitions that interpret the American experience from Colonial times to the present. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at or call (202) 633-1000.