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U.Va. Law Library preserves, posts war crimes docs

Thursday - 7/12/2012, 1:23pm  ET

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. - Thousands of pages of documents, photos and other exhibits from the war crimes trial of 28 Japanese defendants have been digitally preserved and placed online by the University of Virginia Law Library.

The collection was donated by the family of 1927 U.Va. law school graduate Frank Tavenner Jr., one of the prosecutors in the trial of Japanese government and military leaders accused of plotting the start of World War II. The Military Tribunal for the Far East, commonly known as the Tokyo war crimes trial, ended in 1948 with death sentences for seven men and prison terms for the rest.

Law school librarian Taylor Fitchett said in a telephone interview that the more than 30,000 pages of documents have been popular with researchers since the library received them in 1978. But a couple of years ago she noticed that the condition of many of the documents _ especially letters and memos on translucent onionskin paper that was popular in the manual typewriter era _ had begun to deteriorate, and "we weren't going to have them long."

Because the papers were used so much, Fitchett said, preservation became a priority. She asked Eizabeth Ladner, a history student who worked at the library and had some experience with digital conversions, to direct the project.

"It's mostly for scholars," Ladner said of the website, but she added that some of the material would be of interest to other history buffs. For example, some testy exchanges between American and Russian prosecutors who were working together provide a hint of tensions between the two countries at the dawn of the Cold War.

"We've had people who have contacted us who are not historians and not researchers, but who had family members who served in the war," Ladner said. "There was one whose father-in-law was the driver who transported the defendants each day from the jail to the courtroom."

Ladner said she has read every page of the collection over the past two years as she supervised the project, which involves scanning each document with a custom-built, $80,000 Hasselblad camera. She said she knew the basics of World War II and had been a teaching assistant for a course on espionage, "but going through these papers, I learned a mountain of information."

The digital archive includes sections on women's involvement in the prosecution, the Pearl Harbor attack and Japanese experiments with biological warfare. There are plans to add an interactive map of the courtroom that displays key information about each participant, a timeline of the trial, and a section on relations between the U.S. and Soviet officials.

The library also has documents, newspaper clippings and other materials from two of Tavenner's fellow prosecutors, Roy L. Morgan and C.J. Phelps, and defense attorney G. Carrington Williams. Those items also are being added to the exhibit.

"It's a work in progress," said Ladner, who begins a post-doctoral fellowship in September to continue her work on the project.



Tokyo War Crimes Digital Exhibit:

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