AAAS 280E/HIST 280N
History of Asian/America
Asian American history is in many ways social history, history seen from the perspective of
ordinary people. While economic, social, and religious elites have always wielded great power
historically, the consequences of historical changes and transformations are lived by all people,
powerful or not, and ordinary people, in their own ways, have contributed to those changes and
The final paper/project addresses the original question we began the class with: in what ways
have the ideas of “Asia” and “America” emerged and been shaped by global historical forces –
capitalism, industrialism/modernity, labor migration, nationalism – and how have ordinary
people made sense of those forces as they’ve come to shape their lives, culture, and the societies
in which they live.
For your project, you will compare the histories/stories of two Asian Americans from the early
twentieth century. You will choose two people from a list of names I will provide, research their
personal and family histories, and write up your findings, situating how they might have
experienced the broad historical changes we have discussed in the course. Telling their
individual stories allows you to frame and illuminate that broader history, while comparing and
contrasting their stories allows you to explore the difference and diversity of Asian American
experiences. Part of what you’ll have to decide is what “Asian American” means – how Asia and
America are related – in the context of their story and history. In telling their histories, you may
and probably want to consult and incorporate materials from your previous assignments: a) what
are/were the conditions of the region and/or country they came from as well as where they live
now; b) what were the specific historical issues that shaped their lives? how aware were they
(and/or their families) about the full circumstances and conditions of those issues? c) have they
lived under the same circumstances, or have they changed, particularly if they
You may choose one of several formats to present your final project: a conventional paper
(12-15 pages), a web site), a video documentary, or some other type of mixed-media form that
combines aspects of these forms. In that regard, I will demonstrate and explain in-class an online
platform, StoryMap, that allows you to put your story and any documents you find on the web. In
your choice, remember that certain formats require production and post-production processes in
addition to the thinking that goes into its original treatment. You are familiar with writing papers
on a computer word-processor where once you’ve organized your thoughts, production is a
relatively simple matter of spellchecking, proofreading, and printing (and stapling and copying).
A video documentary may require writing a script, significant time shooting footage, editing, and
other post-production processes. Keep in mind also that each format differs in the presentation of
argument, evidence, narrative, and style. Regardless of format, you should turn in all materials
you produce, not just the final version. If you put up a web site, also print out pages with their
respective content and a site map showing the relationships between the different pages. For a
documentary, provide a script, etc. I will arrange a place on the web for all the papers/projects so
everyone will be able to see each others’ papers/projects. So remember as you are
writing/working on them that they will be public, not just for my grading purposes.
Your projects will be original historical research; in almost every case, the stories you write will
be stories that have never been told or presented. Neither you – nor I – will know where the
person’s story goes or how it turns out. That may make the assignment frustrating initially, but it
will also make it interesting, and hopefully exciting. You will have a choice between one of two
types of people on the lists: a) a picture bride or b) a naturalized World War One military
veteran. Which you choose will give you access to different information:
● For picture brides, you’ll have information collected by the state of California of women
who arrived via Angel Island in 1918. The list of tabulated information includes their
names, the name of the ship on which they arrived (and on what date), in some cases,
their age, the name (or initial) of their husbands, and the address where they settled. In
some cases you’ll also have a date, which indicates the date they subsequently had their
first child (if it was within a year).
● For WWI veterans, you will have a copy of the naturalization petition they filed during or
after the war. The petition asked a number of questions that the veterans answered as best
they could: where they were born, when, where, and how they arrived in the United
States, did they have wives and/or children, who were their witnesses, etc.
● To begin your project, enter the name(s) of the people you’ve chosen using the respective
Google form for picture bridesor WWI veterans, then check against the other Google
form responses to see if someone else has chosen the same person. If you chose a picture
bride, return to your Google form and enter the additional information you have about
them from the picture bride document. If you chose a veteran, e-mail me and I will send
you a copy of their naturalization documents. Using those documents, return to your
Google form and enter the additional information you have about them from those
documents. You should enter this information for each personyou include in your
From there, you’ll be on your own to research the person. There are several genealogical sites
online that can help you find additional information about them. These include Family Search
(http://FamilySearch.org) and Forebears (http://Forebears.io), which offer free accounts, and
Ancestry (http://Ancestry.com), which is a paid service that offers a free trial. On these sites, you
can find information about when someone arrived, where they lived (and when they lived there),
who they married, what children they had, if and when they died, etc.
Most sites will have general guides to finding historical information and you can find other
resources online and in the library for finding historical/genealogical information. You may have
to figure out ways to configure your searches to get this information:
● do you have details about the person, such as their birth date and location, that can help
distinguish them from another person with a similar name?
● might there be an alternative spelling for the person’s name to use in your search?
Once you find information or a historical document about the person, save a copy and consider
what kinds of information it may contain. A marriage license, for instance, often lists parents and
witnesses. A ship manifest may have explanatory notes about relatives, sponsors, or location.
The more information you find about someone, the more clues you will have to find additional
information about them.
Take detailed notes while doing your research. Use them as the basis for a rough draft of the
story you will tell. You may find documents that connect to some of the issues, themes, and
history we’ve discussed in class or in the assigned readings. Feel free to use them as sources for
context in your story.
You do not need to do this research alone. You can ask the reference librarians in Bartle for their
assistance. You are free to help one another, sharing tips about how to find information, etc. (I
have set up a discussion forum on Blackboard for this). You may also ask questions in class or
during my office hours. If it turns out your research isn’t leading to fruitful results, you may
always choose a different person for your project.
Save electronic copies of any documents or photographs you find to include with your paper or
to use in a StoryMap version of your project.
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