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Angel Island

In 1905, construction of a new immigration station began at Angel Island, in the San Francisco Bay. Angel Island Immigration Station opened in 1910 and operated until 1940. Like Ellis Island, Angel Island received, inspected and assessed for fitness successive waves of would-be immigrants to the United States. Yet neither its processing regimes nor its history are easily equated to the more familiar Ellis Island model. If Ellis Island has been celebrated and commemorated as the symbol of the United States as an inclusive 'country of immigrants', Angel Island was until comparatively recently neglected by historians and American myth-makers alike. This week we will explore the history of inward migration on the West Coast, and ask: what was Angel Island for, and why is its history and historiography so different from those of Ellis Island?

Required Readings:

  • Erika Lee and Judy Yung, Angel Island Immigrant Gateway to America, pp 29-111 for experiences of migrants who passed through Angel Island. E-Book (This is very easy reading, but remember that e-books may have limitations on simultaneous usages, so don't leave it too late!)
  • Robert Barde & Gustavo Bobonis, 'Detention at Angel Island: First Empirical Evidence', Social Science History, vol. 30 no. 1, 2006, pp. 103-136. Project MUSE,

Discussion questions:

  • Why haven't Americans celebrated and commemorated Angel Island? What does this comparative silence tell us about differences between immigration at Angel and at Ellis Islands? Pro-tip: If you want to explore this question, have a look too at Hoskins and Maddern, 'Immigration Stations: The Regulation and Commemoration of Mobility at Angel Island, San Francisco and Ellis Island New York', Geographies of mobilities: Practices, spaces, subjects (Surrey: Ashgate, 2010): 151-166, available at if you are connected, or as an E-book chapter at Warwick Library.
  • What do the differences between the medical inspection regimes at Angel and Ellis tell us about ideas of American identity and citizenship during the periods of their operation?

Background Readings:

Garland E. Allen, ‘The social and economic origins of genetic determinism: a case history of the American Eugenics Movement, 1900-1940 and its lessons for today’, Genetica - Den Haag 99 (1997): 77, SwetsWise.

Ronald Bayer and Amy Fairchild, ‘The Limits of Privacy: Surveillance and the Control of Disease’, Health Care Analysis 10 (2002): 19–35, SwetsWise.

Kornel Chang, "Enforcing Transnational White Solidarity: Asian Migration and the Formation of the US-Canadian Boundary," American Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 3 (2008): 671-96.

Yong Chen, 'In Their Own Words: The Significance of Chinese-language Sources for Studying Chinese American History', Journal of Asian American Studies, vol. 5 no. 3, 2002, pp. 243-268. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jaas.2003.0013

Yong Chen, Chinese San Francisco, 1850-1943: A Trans-Pacific Community (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).

Lisa Chilton & Yukari Takai, 'East Coast, West Coast: Using Government Files to Study Immigration History.' Histoire sociale/Social history, vol. 48 no. 96, 2015, pp. 7-23. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/his.2015.0030 NB: FOCUS HERE IS ON CANADA -- SO A GREAT COMPARATIVE ARTICLE!

Catherine Ceniza Choy. Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History. American Encounters/Global Interactions. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003.

Peggy Christoff, 'An Archival Resource: INS Case Files on Chinese Women in the American Midwest', Journal of Women's History, vol. 10 no. 3, 1998, pp. 155-170. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jowh.2010.0340

Amy Fairchild, Science at the Borders: Immigrant Medical Inspection and the Shaping of the Modern Industrial Labor Force (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).

Glen Gendzel, ‘Not Just a Golden State: Three Anglo "Rushes" in the Making of Southern California, 1880-1920’, Southern California Quarterly 90, no. 4 (2008): 349-78. US Anglo (internal migration) and the health rush.

David Gerber and Alan M. Kraut, eds, American immigration and ethnicity: a reader (Basingstoke: Palgrave 2007).

Nancy Green, 'A French Ellis Island? Museums, Memory and History in France and the United States', History Workshop Journal, vol. 63 no. 1, 2007, pp. 239-253. Project MUSE,

Hidetaka Hirota, 'Exclusion on the Ground: Racism, Official Discretion, and the Quotidian Enforcement of General Immigration Law in the Pacific Northwest Borderland', American Quarterly, vol. 69 no. 2, 2017, pp. 347-370. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/aq.2017.0031

Alan M. Kraut, ‘Foreign Bodies: The Perennial Negotiation over Health and Culture in a Nation of Immigrants’, Journal of American Ethnic History 23 (2004): pp. 3-22. Electronic Journal.

Estelle T. Lau, Paper Families: Identify, Immigration Administration, and Chinese Exclusion, (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006).

Erika Lee, “A History Lesson for Donald Trump,” New York Daily News, August 18, 2015

Erika Lee and Judy Yung, Angel Island Immigrant Gateway to America (Oxford: OUP, 2010). (reviewed here: Erika Lee, 'Chinese San Francisco, China in America', Reviews in American History, vol. 29 no. 3, 2001, pp. 417-423. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/rah.2001.0048)

Krista Maglen, ‘Importing Trachoma: The Introduction into Britain of American Ideas of an 'Immigrant Disease', 1892-1906’, Immigrants & Minorities 23 (2005): pp 80–99.

Howard Markel, Alexandra Minna Stern, ‘The Foreignness of Germs: The Persistent Association of Immigrants and Disease in American Society’, Milbank Quarterly 80 (2002): 757, SwetsWise.

Adam McKeown,”Conceptualizing Chinese Diasporas, 1842 to 1949,” Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 58, No. 2 (1999): 306-337.

Anna Pegler-Gordon, 'Chinese Exclusion, Photography, and the Development of U.S. Immigration Policy', American Quarterly, vol. 58 no. 1, 2006, pp. 51-77. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/aq.2006.0032

Robert Shaffer, '“A Missionary from the East to Western Pagans”: Kagawa Toyohiko’s 1936 U.S. Tour.' Journal of World History, vol. 24 no. 3, 2013, pp. 577-621. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jwh.2013.0071

Nayan Shah, Contagious divides : epidemics and race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (Berkeley, CA : University of California Press, 2001), esp. Chapter 7.

Alexandra Minna Stern, Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), esp. Chapter 1.

Cecilia Tsu, Garden of the World: Asian Immigrants and the Making of Ariculture in California's Santa Clara Valley (Oxford: OUP, 2013).

K. Scott Wong, 'The Transformation of Culture: Three Chinese Views of America', American Quarterly, vol. 48 no. 2, 1996, pp. 201-232. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/aq.1996.0022 -- NB: Looks at the impact of visits and immigration to the USA on China, offering a useful alternative perspective.


National Archives and Records Administration [NARA] Immigration Records

National Archives 'Digital Vaults' (NB: this source has been designed to help teachers -- but includes some very interesting primary sources)

Look too at this new online exhibition about the internment of Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals in WWII: What light can it shed on questions about memorialization, US race relations, and notions of citizenship?