The Walls Speak: Migration and Memory in Chinese American Architecture and Ornament


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


History of Art


This project explores memorialization and migration in California, analyzing how different groups of Chinese Americans expressed conceptualizations of cultural heritage through the built environment and its decoration, particularly calligraphic inscription, and how those expressions have changed over time. The focus is on three sites created as local institutions and reimagined in later decades as historic sites: surviving nineteenth-century temples in northern and central California, relief carved calligraphic poetry of the Angel Island Immigration Station from the 1910s through 1920s, and, through the Chinatown YWCA (1932, architect Julia Morgan), the architecture of San Francisco Chinatown rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake. These joined practices of placemaking, history-telling, and craft—writing, carving, building, ornamenting—offer us reframed understandings of memory, history, and landscape within the United States, looking beyond mainstream institutions and a single European monument tradition and turning to long-standing efforts of Chinese Americans to record and present their own histories.