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Imagined Asia: Archaeology and Museum Anthropology of the Chinese Diaspora and the Ainu


Archaeological sites and ethnographic museums preserve materials, and the human lives to which they connect, in different ways. Sites preserve evidence of peoples’ everyday lives in the form of their material contents, but by their nature as buried and often fragmented artifacts and features they also indicate some degree of loss or even erasure during the process of the site’s formation. Ethnographic museums, by contrast, purposefully preserve both material and documentary evidence of people’s lives. However, they also maintain the context of the collection’s creation, the agencies of the original owners, collectors, and institutions involved in their assembly.

This dissertation examines an archaeology site and museum collections in tandem to discern their shared context in transpacific interactions between the United States and East Asia in the late nineteenth century. First, I use a combination of oral history and historical archaeology to understand the lives of Chinese immigrants living at the Arboretum Chinese Quarters at Stanford University in California between 1876 and 1925, the era of both widespread Chinese diaspora and increasing racialization and discrimination against immigrants in the United States. Second, I examine ethnographic museum collections initially created during this same time period between the 1870s and 1920s. These collections of material culture from the Ainu, the Indigenous people of Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kurile Islands, share a social context with the archaeological remains of the Chinese diaspora beyond their contemporaneity. Both the site and the collections formed as they did due to the racialization of Asian ethnic groups in the nineteenth century United States. Through uniting these material remains with historical documentation, oral histories, and records of oral traditions, I explore this shared context, the evidence they both provide about everyday lives shaped by colonial policy, and present ways that objects, both archaeological and ethnographic, continue to matter for descendent and other stakeholder communities today.

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