Teaching Forum: Chinese Exclusion

With this forum we introduce a new feature, the first in a series of online conversations about teaching.

Almost invariably described as a turning point in U.S. history, Chinese Exclusion is a major topic in Gilded Age and Progressive Era as well as Immigration and Ethnic Studies courses. In addition it brings into sharp relief a central theme in all U.S. history courses, the construction of American identities.

As a way of initiating the forum we have asked Erika Lee, Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, to write about how she approaches Chinese Exclusion with her students. She is the author of two important mongraphs. At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 (University of North Carolina Press, 2003) explains how the Chinese exclusion laws transformed the United States into a gatekeeping nation and analyzes the consequences of exclusion for both the Chinese in America and the United States in general. At the heart of the book is the question of whether the United States is a nation of immigrants or a gatekeeping nation. At America's Gates won the 2003 Theodore Saloutos Book Prize in Immigration and Ethnic History and the 2003 History Book Prize from the Association of Asian American Studies. It was also selected as a 2004 Choice Outstanding Academic Title. With Judy Yung she wrote Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America (Oxford University Press, 2010). Professor Lee is a founding member of the Asian American Studies Initiative at the University of Minnesota. In 2004 and 2005, she was a finalist for the University of Minnesota Morse-Alumni Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching.

We have also asked Richard Jensen, currently Research Professor of History at Montana State University--Billings, Montana, to comment. Professor Jensen is a distinguished historian of American Politics, co-editor of H-ETHNIC, which he helped to found, and a highly experienced and accomplished teacher. His Scholars Guide to the WWW is an invaluable gateway to online resources.

Lendol Calder, Professor of History at Augustana College, who’s written extensively about teaching, poses several questions, which can help structure our discussion:

  • what are the dominant misconceptions, or bottlenecks to understanding, that students experience with this unit?
  • What are the enduring questions scholars have on this subject?
  • What are the major arguments on this subject we want students to understand well enough to form a provisional opinion on, and to be able to explain in ways that show they understand the plausibility of the view?
  • what do I expect students to do with knowledge they gain about this subject? ["know it" is not an answer. So another way to frame the question would be: How does knowledge of Chinese exclusion, for example, matter to larger themes and projects of the course?]

To comment jmcclyme [at] assumption [dot] edu (contact) online projects editor John McClymer.