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Professor Slater's student team building Japan's largest database of 3.11 victims' narratives

Associate Professor David Slater in the Faculty of Liberal Arts is building Japan's largest database of video interviews of people affected by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. As people’s memory of the disaster begins to fade, his efforts to preserve the first-hand experience and make the archives available for researchers around the world is gaining recognition, including Tohoku University and Harvard University, while doing targeted volunteer work in each community.

In his project called "Tohoku Voices: 3.11 Oral Narratives for Service Learning," Professor Slater, anthropologist from the U.S., and his students visited Minami-Sanriku, Ishinomaki, Fukushima City and 7 other affected communities in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures in northern Japan to help relief work and interview people. So far, more than 100 students have participated in the project, donating thousands of hours of volunteer work.

Because of this volunteer work, the travel and lodging has been paid for by the Center for Student Affairs. The students have collected more than 400 hours of interviews from with more than 300 people affected by the disaster. Professor Slater and his team are adding Japanese transcription to the interview videos and planning to get the database coded and searchable so that researchers around the world can use the archives for disaster science, anthropology, but also local history (Tohoku-gaku) and narrative studies.

Professor Slater and his students

It was partly due to students' desire that Professor Slater team’s short-term relief work turned into a long-term research. Prompted by their desire, the professor rewrote his curriculum as a service learning that combined volunteer work and research, which involved studying history and traditions of the disaster-stricken area, interviewing local people, building a database and publishing the results on the Internet.

(The beta version is here: )

In February, Professor Slater and his student presented their research results at an international symposium on "Telling the World about 3.11" held at Tohoku University, where disaster specialists, digital media and advocacy scholars.

"It is a very difficult course because student team need to go up to Tohoku at least 4 times and transcribes hundreds of pages of interviews each semester, but the project has given students a chance to contribute to communities in need through their volunteer work, develop academic capacity and skills that are useful now and in the future, and produce scholarly work that is of interest to the wider academic community. That is what ‘service learning’ is, something very much in line with the larger missions of Sophia University," said Professor Slater. The next step of the project is to translate the materials into English in order to make them available for an international audience.


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