Chinese Agency in the Era of the Chinese Question: Historical Archaeology of Woodcutting Communities in Nevada, 1861-1920
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Between the 1860s and the 1920s, men and women of the Chinese diaspora were an integral component of the economic and social networks of Aurora, Nevada and Bodie, California. Throughout their time in Aurora and Bodie, the Chinese faced numerous challenges to their autonomy and agency, including discriminatory laws, threats of violence, and attempts to curtail their economic success. This dissertation investigates how the Chinese faced these challenges, circumvented limits to their free will, and created new choices and opportunities within the mining towns. In order to explore how Chinese choice was shaped and influenced in the past, I examine historical and archaeological data from urban and rural sites in and around Aurora, Nevada and Bodie, California. In Aurora, 2011 excavations revealed 1860s Chinese residential spaces defined by a segregationist law. In 2013, I conducted archaeological survey of two 1880s to 1890s Chinese sites near the Aurora courthouse. Between 2012 and 2014, I surveyed, mapped, and photographed a series of nine Chinese woodcutting camps north of the urban centers. I excavated key features at one of the camps in 2014, and analyzed a donated collection of over 500 diagnostic artifacts from seven of those camps in 2015. I incorporate historical records, including census enumerations, tax assessments, Forest Service reports, maps, and photographs, with the archaeological data.The combination of urban and rural sites that were occupied contemporarily and independently between the 1860s and 1920s allows for a deeper understanding of the different factors that influenced Chinese behavior and decision-making processes. I combine a site-based analysis of the unique archaeological signatures at the individual Chinese sites with a larger regional perspective to investigate Chinese agency on multiple scales.Present-day scholarship of the historical archaeology of the Chinese in the United States highlights the transnational behavior represented in the historical and material records. Both transnational and diasporic perspectives stress the diversity of Chinese immigrants and their experiences. Yet, these two perspectives fall short of explaining the social and economic processes with which the Chinese actively engaged. My dissertation emphasizes agency as a way to explore how Chinese decision making was influenced by external and internal factors that curtailed and encouraged Chinese choices. The theoretical model offers a structure for understanding how culture contact, identity, and economics influenced Chinese agency across several temporal and spatial scales.