The website was developed by Lab member Bryan Zehngut-Willits with students in the undergraduate “Asylum in Crisis” course in 2020. It harnessed publicly available documents from NARA’s collections and used Wax, a sustainable minimal computing project, to build online collections and history exhibitions. Students were able to contribute to the creation of a digital archival collection, closely study a number of A-files, and practice historical analysis and writing skills.
Students manually added expansive and key-word searchable metadata to this set of A-files, making them more accessible to researchers, educators, and students than what is currently available from NARA. The time-consuming nature of the process revealed the need to experiment with more automated, machine learning based methods, in order to make A-files searchable at scale.
The site’s digital exhibition component exposes the imperial project of the United States in the Pacific as it appears in government records pertaining to immigration. These exhibits show the mechanisms of migration control, the inner-workings and development of the United States’ immigration system, the impact it had on migrants, and the connection between U.S. foreign policy and immigration restriction.