Award-winning historian delivers annual Fusco lecture on Chinese gold miners
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 22:10
Dr. Mae M. Ngai spoke about Chinese gold miners, the “Coolie” Question, and the Propaganda of History as the guest speaker for the 14th Annual Fusco Distinguished Lecture in History on Tuesday night at the Dodd Center.
“I’m glad to have a person that replaces my virtual conception of Mae Ngai,” said Shirley Roe, administrative coordinator of the department of history. “As a historian of science, this certainly added a lot to deepen my own understanding of race and science.”
Roe provided a brief introduction at the beginning of the program. The Fusco Distinguished Lecture Series, founded by Edmund J. Fusco, Sr. Fund for Excellence in History, has hosted a number of renowned scholars like Frederick Cooper and Barbara Weinstein. Each year, the lecture takes place in October and features a variety of different topics. This year, Ngai concentrated on Chinese gold miners in the late 1800s and the racist misconceptions they faced.
“Indeed her work skillfully navigates the contested terrains of laws and politics and she productively pushes us to rethink the relationship between immigration, citizenship, and nationalism,” said Cathy Schlund-Vials, director of the Asian American Studies Institute. Both Schlund-Vials and Roe commented on how they felt like they’ve learned a lot about Ngai from her scholarly work. Schlund-Vials recollected how she was influenced by Ngai’s work while obtaining her master’s degree.
“One of the most profoundly impactful books was Dr Ngai’s “Impossible Subjects,” which showed me the limitations of my own thinking,” said Schlund-Vials, who introduced Ngai to the audience at the Konover Auditorium.
“I was delighted to be asked to deliver the Fusco Lecture this year, so I thank all of you for coming,” Ngai said at the beginning of her lecture. “Some of my thinking that I’m going to share with you today has to do with how I’m framing some of the larger questions that I’m trying to investigate and then I’m going to share with you some of the research I’m finding.”
Ngai is a United States political and legal historian who researches questions of immigration, citizenship, and nationalism. She has won numerous awards, including the Frederick Jackson Turner Award and the Littleton-Griswold Prize, and has published journals in papers like the Washington Post, New York Times, and the Boston Review.
Ngai explained how there is very little written about Chinese gold miners because historians usually focus on the expansion of the United States during the 1800s and less attention to the United States as a settler colony. She spoke about the constitution and marginalization of migrant communities, the “Coolie” figure and exclusionism, and the concept of slavery by debt bondage.
After her lecture, Ngai answered questions from the crowd. At a following reception, Ngai stayed to talk to her readers and enthusiasts while other audience members discussed Ngai’s works and the lecture amongst themselves.