Stanford University Provost Persis Drell

Stanford University Provost delivers remarks on the occasion of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford’s commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Golden Spike, and the Chinese workers.

April 11, 2019, Stanford University

With hundreds in attendance from the Project’s international scholar network, and the Stanford and public communities, Stanford University’s leadership honors the role of the Chinese workers who helped build the Transcontinental Railroad, and celebrates the accomplishments of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford.

Transcript of the remarks by Stanford University Provost Persis Drell, James and Anna Marie Spilker Professor in the School of Engineering, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Professor of Physics.

[The Provost was introduced by Roland Hsu, Director of Research, Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford.]

Thank you, Roland.

I’m delighted to welcome you all to this momentous occasion marking the culmination of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford.

On May 10 the world will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in Utah, marking a significant milestone in history — the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Seven years in the making and in anticipation of this anniversary, the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America project brings to light the important and often over-looked story of the thousands of Chinese laborers who were involved in the construction of the railroad.

It tells the story of these brave workers — mainly from Guangdong Province — who left their homes and crossed the ocean to find work and establish new communities in the US.

It is a story of hard-working individuals whose strength, skills, and resilience in the face of danger, discrimination, and hardship paved the way in uniting our country from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

It is also a story of the intertwined social, economic, and political histories of China and the United States and a foundational chapter in Asian American history.

And … it is a story that will be forever linked to Stanford University.

Leland Stanford founded this university using much of the wealth he earned as one of the “Big Four” who oversaw the construction of the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The labor of Chinese workers — at one point comprising 90 percent of the workforce — was integral to the construction and completion of this ambitious project.

Today Stanford University honors the contribution of the Chinese railroad workers to the building of the university. We honor the memory of these courageous migrant workers and recognize their many contributions to our country and their important role in this pivotal moment in history.

Stanford University has been proud to sponsor the Chinese Railroad Worker in North America Project, which has become the largest and most ambitious collaborative research project in Asian American studies and in transnational American studies, involving more than 100 scholars on both sides of the Pacific and across multiple disciplines.

The project has produced a significant body of scholarship and inspired many other efforts, including:

  • Four major conferences — two previously here at Stanford, and in Taipei, Taiwan, and Guangzhou, China
  • Four books, which are on display here today
  • Multiple articles in scholarly journals
  • A photographic and a historical exhibit — also on display here — that travelin high demandto libraries, colleges, and public sites around the country
  • Various archeological discoveries
  • Video oral histories
  • Digital materials including essays, adigital repository in Stanford libraries, and an online bibliography for further research
  • An original musical oratorio, which will debut in fall 2019 at Bing Theater; and
  • School curriculum modules, developed in affiliation with the Stanford Program in Cooperative Education at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Congratulations to everyone in this room who has helped make this project a reality. I’d especially like to thank:

  • Gordon H. Chang, co-director, professor of history and the Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities
  • Shelley Fisher Fishkin, co-director and professor of English and the Joseph Atha professor in humanities and director of American Studies Program
  • Hilton Obenzinger, associate director
  • Roland Hsu, director of research
  • Barbara Voss, associate professor of anthropology

Thank you to everyone for being here today and helping us honor and celebrate this important moment in history.

–Persis Drell, Provost, Stanford University.