Course Meeting Times

Sessions: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course sessions include lecture and discussion sections, generally on alternating days during the week.

Course Description

This subject provides an overview of Asian American history and examines its relevance for contemporary Asian American issues. We will cover the first wave of Asian immigration in the 19th century, the rise of anti-Asian movements, the experiences of Asian Americans during WWII, the emergence of the Asian American movement in the 1960s, and the new wave of post–1965 Asian immigration. The class examines the role these experiences played in the formation of Asian American ethnic identity, and considers key issues such as racial stereotyping, media racism, affirmative action, the glass (or “bamboo”) ceiling, the model minority stereotype, and anti-Asian harassment or violence.


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the time you complete this course, you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of the key historical events that have shaped Asian American communities since the 1850s, and the major factors that led to the production of the “Asian American identity” in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Explain the impact of labor demand, US immigration policy, and ideas about race and cultural difference on Asian Americans, comparing the “first” and “second” waves of Asian immigration.
  • Identify the shared experiences that link Asian Americans together, as well as the internal diversity (ethnic origin, language, religion, gender, class, generation, etc.) that divides this group.
  • Use this knowledge to evaluate the validity of the “model minority” stereotype, considering in particular the internal diversity of the Asian American population, and the glass or “bamboo” ceiling phenomenon.
  • Effectively communicate a position on a controversial issue through both written and oral communication.

Other Key Activities

  • A library workshop with an MIT reference librarian designed to improve research skills, with emphasis on historical primary sources and the critical evaluation of online materials.
  • Writing workshops with our designated writing advisor focusing on use of evidence, thesis construction, and citations.
  • A Chinatown scavenger hunt designed to promote student awareness of connections between class readings and local community issues.

Communication intensive subjects in the humanities, arts and social sciences (CI-H)  require at least 6000 words of writing divided among a number of assignments, at least one of which is revised and resubmitted. This class requires three papers, one of which will be revised and resubmitted.

All paper assignments will be made available to students online. Each student will have a mandatory meeting with the writing advisor to discuss the revision process based on feedback from both the professor and the advisor. Additional meetings with the writing advisor will be arranged as needed throughout the semester in consultation with the writing advisor. You are also encouraged to make use of the Writing Center. In addition, CI-H subjects offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through presentations and class participation. This class requires all students to participate in a weekly discussion of the assigned reading. Each student will also make brief oral presentations on designated days and may be asked to lead class discussion once during the semester. To guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the number of students in this class is limited to 25. The class will meet twice weekly for an hour and a half each meeting. Lectures will generally be delivered during the first session, with the second reserved for discussions of readings and / or films. Students will also meet individually with the writing advisor to discuss the papers.

There is no final exam. Occasional [ungraded] quizzes may be given at the discretion of the professor to assess student progress in class.


All grading will be done by the professor. The grade for this subject will be broken down as follows:

Class participation 25
Paper No. 1 10
Paper No. 2 15
Paper No. 3 15
Paper rewrite 20
Formal oral presentations 15

Definition of Grades

  1. Exceptionally good performance, demonstrating a superior understanding of the subject matter, a foundation of extensive knowledge, and a skillful use of concepts and / or materials.
  2. Good performance, demonstrating capacity to use the appropriate concepts, a good understanding of the subject matter, and an ability to handle the problems and materials encountered in the subject.
  3. Adequate performance, demonstrating an adequate understanding of the subject matter, an ability to handle relatively simple problems, and adequate preparation for moving on to more advanced work in the field.
  4. Minimally acceptable performance, demonstrating at least partial familiarity with the subject matter and some capacity to deal with relatively simple problems, but also demonstrating deficiencies serious enough to make it inadvisable to proceed further in the field without additional work.

In accord with MIT Rules and Regulations of the Faculty section 2.62, I do not grade on a curve. Students are assessed individually, and there is no pre-determined grade spread in any subject.

Consistent with this, after Drop Date, students who remain in a class are not in jeopardy of seeing their grades change due to the change in class composition.

Attendance and Class Participation Attendance is mandatory. ***No class absence, except in cases of illness or family emergency. Please inform me in advance by e‐mail. No extensions on papers except in cases of serious illness or emergency!!! It is also mandatory that you meet with the writing advisor to discuss your paper revision!!!

Five points will be deducted from your revised paper for failing to meet with the advisor, or for failing to provide her with proper notice if you wish to cancel or reschedule your meeting.

Other Useful Information

Student Support Services

If you are dealing with a personal or medical issue that is impacting your ability to attend class, complete work, or take an exam, please discuss this with Student Support Services (S3). The deans in S3 will verify your situation, and then discuss with you how to address the missed work. Students will not be excused from coursework without verification from Student Support Services.

Academic Integrity Policy

I expect all students to be familiar with MIT’s policies and guidelines on academic integrity as outlined in the handbook on academic integrity.
Please review all the guidelines in the handbook, including the information on responsible paraphrasing. You will also be expected to review the guidelines for copyright and fair use, provided by MIT libraries.

Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty are serious offenses and will be dealt with according to MIT policy and procedures.

Collaboration Policy

You are expected to collaborate with others in this class. In terms of the papers, the Chinatown field trip report, and oral presentation, you may discuss and work together with others. However, my expectation is that the final written product represents your own original writing, and yours alone.


Week 1: Intro
1 Introduction to the Class  
Week 2: Early Immigrants–The First Wave
2 In-class free writing  
3 Discussion  
Week 3: Chinese Exclusion
4 Lecture Paper 1 due
5 Discussion  
Week 4: Chinatown
6 Library Workshop  
7 Chinatown Field Trip  
Week 5: Imperialism in the Philippines and the Migration of Colonials


Mini-workshop with Writing Advisor: Tips on Comparative Analysis

9 Presentations Group I  
Week 6: World War II and the Japanese–American Internment
10 Lecture  
11 Discussion  
Week 7: Asian Americans in the Civil Rights Era
12 Lecture Paper 2 due
Week 8: The Second Wave: Post–1965 Immigration, Southeast Asian Refugees and Changing Community
13 Lecture  
14 Presentations Group II  
Week 9: Model Minority or Invisible Minority?
15 Review lecture  
16 Discussion: I. The Pew Report and Responses Chinatown Field Trip writeup due
Week 10: Asian Americans in Asia
17 Guest Lecture: Asian Americans Working in Asia Guest lecture: Professor Edward J. W. Park
18 Writing Workshop  
Week 11: Second Wave Immigrants–Korean Americans, Small Business, and Inter-Ethnic Relations
19 Guest Lecture Guest Lecture: Professor Min Song
20 Discussion  
Week 12: Second Wave Immigrants–South Asian Americans, Ethnic Identity and the Second-Generation
21 Guest Lecture Guest Lecture: Professor Pawan Dhingra
22 Discussion  
Week 13: New Immigrants, New Identities
23 Discussion and Thesis Presentation Present paper thesis
Week 14: New Immigrants, New Identities
24 Thesis Presentations  
25 Writing Workshop  
Week 15: Last Day of Class
26 Final Revised Paper Due

Final paper revision due


Subject evaluations

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Activity Assignments
Written Assignments