Migrants in the Archives

Union Pacific Tea

In a little less than two months, I will travel to some of the main commercial centers and transport hubs (of both people and goods) of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century: Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guandong. I intend to access archival materials and museum collections that may contain information on both the commercial activities and life stories of Chinese migrants and businessmen.

I have previously sought to analyze the links between business and migration by relying on various archival sources and oral histories in the United States. Albeit informative, these sources have provided only a limited understanding of the ‘Chinese’ side of the story, and particularly the three-pronged role of Chinese business companies in: i) aiding migration, ii) negotiating Chinese migrants’ right to entry and presence on the US territory, and iii) engaging with the budding consumer society in the United States. Such understanding is important because it allows for a more thorough analysis of the various levels of interaction between the Chinese and US representatives and better assessment of the ways in which the Chinese business community, in conjunction with various US officials, facilitated the transfer and presence of migrants in the United States.

I am hopeful that my extensive research of archival collections in the United States provides some degree of preparation for exploring archives in China. (At the very least, it provides a good basis for comparison.) Yet, I am aware that accessing procedures might be vastly different. For this reason, I am currently thinking ‘beyond the archives’ and trying to identify alternative sources of information, such as museums, universities, public libraries, personal connections, etc.

Looking through the eyes of a researcher, this summer travel will allow me to see China in a different light. Especially, I will be curious to explore the extent to which the history and politics of trade and migration still influence/are part of the cultural and social interactions today. I look froward to sharing my thoughts and experiences through photos, videos, and blogs!



Prof. Ranabir Samaddar on Immigration History (Audio)

We were lucky to have a very fascinating talk recently by visiting Indian scholar Ranabir Samaddar, who is the Director of the Calcutta Research Group (CRG) in Kolkata, India. Samaddar’s talk was titled “Returning to the History of 19th and Early 20th Century Immigration.” Professor Samaddar focused on the history of migration and immigration in the 19th and early 20th century, with special emphasis on the period from around 1875 until 1925. The talk covered a wide range of materials, including Chinese migrants working on the early US railways. His talk was followed up with responses from Victoria Hattam, Professor of Politics at The New School for Social Research (NSSR), Paula Banerjee, who is currently a visiting professor from the University of Calcutta and also a member of the Calcutta Research Group, and Mark Frazier, who also teaches in the Politics Dept at NSSR and is one of ICI’s two Academic Directors.

In case you missed this exiting event you can listen to the audio below.