Boise State opens Sims collection on Minidoka and Japanese Americans in World War II

Prof. Bob Sims in the classroom.
Prof. Bob Sims in the classroom. Boise State Special Collections and Archives

Feb. 19 will mark the 75th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that authorized the U.S. government to hold Japanese Americans and others of Japanese descent in camps across the United States following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

The camps included the Hunt or Minidoka Camp, now the Minidoka National Monument, outside of Jerome, Idaho.

Boise State Professor Robert Sims, who died in 2015, spent much of his academic career writing and lecturing about that era. The Boise State University Special Collections and Archives recently opened the Robert C. Sims Collection on Minidoka and Japanese Americans.

The collection, which is open to the public, includes 67 boxes and 200 books from Sims’ life-long research, including government reports and files, personal narratives and letters, interviews, articles and other media resources, books and photographs. The collection also contains Sims’ personal files, such as correspondence, speeches and presentations, published articles and reviews, and awards he received throughout his academic career and beyond.

What’s significiant is that Sims’ research, photos and more are all now in one place and ready to be studied, said Cheryl Oestreicher, who is the head of Special Collections. Scholars today won’t have to retrace Sims’ 40 years of research, she said.

Sims was among the first scholars to specialize in the topic of Japanese Americans, particularly those in the American West and during World War II.

“He gave his first presentation about the camps in 1973 when people weren’t talking about them yet,” Oestreicher said.

The treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II represents a dark period in American history, one that was not often taught in schools and was cloaked in mystery until scholars like Sims helped move it into the mainstream.

Sims’ research collection includes oral histories, student papers from the schools at Minidoka, reports from employees at the camps and more obscure items.

“When I think of how much time he must have spent researching,” said Oestreicher. “And this was in an era before the internet. He had to dig, and contact archives, and visit archives, and find sources, and interview and build from there.”

Sims’ family donated the contents of the collection so that his writings and research could “continue his commitment to social justice and public good,” according to a brief biography written by his widow Betty Sims and their daughter, Sarah Sims.

Oestreicher wrote in a recent blog about Sims’ papers, “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.”

The Sims papers are found in the Special Collections and Archives at the Boise State University Library. Call 208-426-3958 for more information.