Essay 3: Archaeological Research on Asian Americans

Chinese rag picker in San Francisco Library of Congress
A man smokes a long pipe in Rag Pickers Alley in Chinatown, San Francisco. Ragpicking was the practice of collecting salvage material from street refuse and selling it. Photo, ca. 1921.

Photo in the collections of the Library of Congress (

By Douglas E. Ross, Albion Environmental

Broadly speaking, historical archaeology is the archaeology of times and places for which written records are available but is more narrowly defined in North America (and elsewhere) as the archaeology of the modern world in the post-Columbian era of the past five centuries.[1] In the United States, historical archaeologists have studied a diverse range of sites spanning the 16th through 21st centuries in both urban and rural contexts and including upstanding, buried, and underwater resources. Such studies have been conducted at the individual, household, and community level in residential, commercial, industrial, military, mortuary, and other contexts and with close attention to behavioral patterns influenced by things like ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality. Today, most historical archaeology in the uS is conducted in a resource management context in compliance with federal or state heritage legislation. However, there is also a vibrant community of academic historical archaeologists at colleges and universities across the country, along with a series of regional and international professional organizations led by the Society for Historical Archaeology that serve the needs of academic and resource management archaeologists alike.

While some resources studied by historical archaeologists are visible, even prominent, on the landscape, most are easily overlooked by the casual observer because they have become buried over time and leave few if any traces on the surface. Read more >> (.pdf 3.4MB)

[1] David Gaimster and Teresita Majewski, International Handbook of Historical Archaeology, edited by Teresita Majewski and David Gaimster (New York, NY: Springer, 2009), xvii-xx; Charles E. Orser, Jr., "Twenty-First Century Historical Archaeology," Journal of Archaeological Research, Vol. 18 (2010), 111-150.

The views and conclusions contained in the essays are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Part of a series of articles titled Finding a Path Forward: Asian American Pacific Islander National Historic Landmarks Theme Study.

Last updated: April 9, 2019