Stanford Project Unearths Personal Histories of Chinese Railroad Workers

at 10:00 AM

The Transcontinental Railroad has been dubbed a feat of 19th century engineering and has been credited with opening California up to trade. Despite the importance of the project, little is known about the individual lives of the 12,000 Chinese immigrants who laid the track between Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada. Now, 150 years after Chinese workers began working on the railroad, we look back on the contributions of those workers and learn about the Stanford project that's piecing together their personal stories.

Photos from the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project

Photo by Alfred A. Hart. Courtesy of the Stanford University Archives, Alfred A. Hart Photograph Collection.

Guests:

Gordon Chang, professor of history and humanities, director of the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford University and co-director of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project

Sue Lee, executive director of the Chinese Historical Society of America

Russell Low, descendant of a Chinese railroad worker

Connie Young Yu, descendant of a Chinese railroad worker and author of "Chinatown, San Jose, USA"

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Photo by Alfred A. Hart c. 1860-70. Courtesy of the Stanford University Archives, Alfred A. Hart Photograph Collection.

A photo of Summit Tunnel, which is considered by many to be the most dangerous project undertaken by the Chinese laborers. The tunnel, 1,695 feet long, was cut through solid granite, 124 feet below the surface. Photo by Alred A. Hart. Courtesy of the Stanford University Archives, Alfred A. Hart Photograph Collection.

"Chinese Laying Last Rail, May 10, 1869" by Andrew Russell. Though Russell's more famous photograph, "East and West Shaking Hands at Laying Last Rail," does not feature Chinese workers, this alternative view suggests that there may in fact have been a few Chinese workers photographed, judging from the baggy clothing of two individuals along the rail. Courtesy of the Kyle Wyatt Collection.

More Information on the Project

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Chinese Railroad Workers Project Introduction Video from Chinese Railroad Workers on Vimeo.

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