final project

Final Paper/Project
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 transformations.
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 migrated/immigrated?
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, StoryMaps, 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
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
• 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 brides or 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 person you include in your project.
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 ( and Forebears (, which offer free
accounts, and Ancestry (, 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 StoryMaps version of your project.

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