The Gordon W. Prange Collection: Saving Hidden History, Japan 1945-1949

The University of Maryland located on
the east coast of the United States ranks as one of the top public research
universities in the US. The campus has a major advantage in its proximity to
downtown Washington DC, just eight miles away. But the University of Maryland is
also home to a unique cultural and historic treasure – the Gordon W. Prange
Collection. Here on the fourth floor of the university’s Hornbake Library,
you’ll discover a collection of astonishing proportions, acknowledged by
scholars to be the most complete and valuable collection of published
materials of its kind found anywhere in the world. The Prange Collection is a comprehensive
accumulation of Japanese language printed materials dating from the
immediate post-war period, 1945 through 1949. The contents of the Prange
Collection were once the files of the press pictorial and broadcast division
of the civil censorship detachment – CCD – an operating unit of the supreme
commander of the Allied powers under General Douglas MacArthur. The CCD
controlled information and expression among Japanese media and publishers. CCD
workers reviewed and retained copies of all publications according to a press
code, designed to introduce the meaning and responsibilities of a free and
truthful press to the Japanese and eliminate propaganda that might be
harmful to the reconstruction effort. Ironically the CCD was working to
promote freedom of expression a fundamental principle of democracy in
post-war Japan through a censorship operation by a governing culture. This is
one of the many things that makes the Prange Collection so fascinating.
of a comprehensive scope of the CCD censorship activities, its archive is
eventually included one copy of virtually every single item ever
submitted for publication in Occupied Japan.
These historical archives form the core of the Prange Collection. The censorship
markings that appear on a number of the Prange Collection documents reflect broad
guidelines that were created instituted and followed by reviewers of the CCD.
It’s important to note however that there was some evolution during the
period of time that we are talking about in terms of of how those guidelines were
actually followed and how they are reflected in the particular notations in
individual Prange Collection documents. The Collection was named for the late
Gorden W. Prange, a professor of history at the University of Maryland who also
served as chief historian under General MacArthur during the Allied Forces
post-war occupation of Japan. As a scholar and historian, Dr. Prange realized
the historical value of the materials being censored and suppressed by the CCD.
He took the line that I have a job to do and I’m gonna get along with these
people and I’m gonna not so much ingratiate is I’m gonna make it an
opportunity for the both sides to coalesce as to this is what happened and
why and why we did certain things so he became a friend to a lot of these people.
When the decision was made to dissolve the censorship operation in 1949 and
dismantle the CCD offices Prange negotiated to save the books papers
magazines and other records amassed during the years of the censorship
operations. Prange worked tirelessly and eventually his efforts proved to be
successful as he obtained the publication’s for the University of
Maryland and for future generations of scholars and researchers. Once Prange
secured permission for the documents to be moved to the University of Maryland,
inventory and packing of the materials in this vast collection began. The
packing process alone took nearly two continuous years from 1949 to 1951. The
crates were then shipped across the Pacific and slowly made their way to
Maryland and the University of Maryland Libraries. Publications from local
grassroots newsletters to popular commercial newspapers and magazines on
virtually every subject area are included in the collection from
economics to literature to politics to comics and entertainment even children’s
literature. The number of holdings is enormous 71,000 books and pamphlets.
More than 18,000 newspapers and newsletter titles. nearly 14,000
magazine titles approximately 600,000 pages of censorship documents as
well as thousands of newspaper photos and hundreds of maps and posters.
Approximately 1.7 million items in all. From the moment the very first documents
were removed from their crates, preservation of the material became a
priority. The library staff worked diligently to restore and preserve items
in the collection. Because of the fragile nature of the for quality acidic paper
used for many of the documents, material in the collection has always been
handled and cleaned with extreme care.
In the 1990s library staff began the
daunting task of microfilming documents in the collection to further
preservation efforts and make materials in the collection more accessible but
even with modern advances in climate control and storage of printed materials,
preserving the Prange Collection continues to be a race against time. New
methods of imaging and reproduction have been enlisted. A staff of full-time
scanners works at the University Library to digitize documents in the collection
and provide essential access to these documents through a Japanese-English
website. The staff of the Prange Collection takes great pride in its
careful stewardship of these important documents. Progress and preservation
continues to be a priority as well as developing new ways to share the
collection’s historic treasures with others throughout the world.
This important work could not be possible without the generous financial
support of the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Diet Library
of Japan, the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, the Nippon foundation
and individual contributions. But much work remains, as the materials continue
to age and we face the great risk of losing some of these rare documents. The
Prange Collection is a tremendous resource for scholars for researchers
and for students more generally of that period of time. Given the fact that the
Collection represents the nearly total publishing output for that period of
time it’s a tremendous source of information for the politics of the
period which was in great transformation for socio-economic conditions that were
under equally dramatic changes. Just about every segment of Japanese life,
society and culture was affected in one way or another by the tremendous forces
of change which were unleashed by the conclusion of the war. What we are doing
in the Prange Collection is preserving these materials certainly for the most
current generation but for generations to come.
So in effect we are ensuring each generations ability to bring their own
perspective to make their own assessments. The historical importance of
the Prange Collection cannot be overstated no other collection in the
world offers such comprehensive documentation of the people politics and
pulse of post-world War II Japan. It reveals countless aspects of a
critically important but largely unstudied period of Japanese history.
Lessons learned from the collection served to deepen our understanding of
the impact and influence of governing cultures throughout history. I think my
father would be very pleased with what the University of Maryland is done
with this collection. We invite you to explore and learn from the unique and
irreplaceable documents found in the Prange Collection and discover why so
many have worked for so long to preserve these precious archives for many
generations to come. With your help, the materials in the
Prange Collection will continue to be preserved so that future generations can
learn from this irreplaceable cultural resource.

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