At the end of the Spring 2018 semester, teacher, historian, curator, and long-time Gallatin faculty member Jack (John Kuo Wei) Tchen will leave Gallatin and NYU, stepping down from his role as Founding Director of the Asian/Pacific/American (A/P/A) Studies Program and Institute at NYU and into a new position as the Inaugural Clement A. Price Chair in Public History and the Humanities and Director of the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University, Newark.
Tchen began teaching at NYU twenty-two years ago, bringing his scholarly work as a historian who specializes in American and Asian American History to bear on building public history and archives that transcend traditional boundaries and include Asia, the Americas, and the Atlantic and the Pacific.
As the founding director of NYU’s A/P/A Studies Program and Institute, Tchen fostered approaches to historical scholarship that brought together and restored the fragments of lives and communities that have been erased or left out of from common historical narratives. Tchen was also a founding faculty member of NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis.
In 1979, he co-founded the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City, where he still acts as a senior historian, helping to create research collections of Asians in the Americas. In 2012, Tchen was awarded the Charles S. Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities and received the NYU MLK Jr. Humanitarian Award.
He was the senior historian for a New-York Historical Society exhibition “Chinese American: Inclusion/Exclusion” (2014) on the impact of Chinese Exclusion Laws in the formation of the US and also senior advisor for the two-hour American Experience PBS documentary with Ric Burns and Lishin Yu on the “Chinese Exclusion Act” (2018). He is also a founder of the NYC Public History Project, funded by the Ford Foundation, which will reframe the history of the region starting with the twined foundational histories of dispossession and enslavement (work emerging from serving as a Commissioner on the NYC Mayor’s Commission on Monuments.) His Below the Grid Project is pioneering creative historical storytelling with smart, location-sensitive wearable tech.
His books include New York before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Old Chinatown, 1895-1905 (Dover Publications, 1984), and Yellow Peril: An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear (2014) is a critical archival study of images, excerpts and essays on the history and contemporary impact of paranoia and xenophobia.
“I personally want to sincerely thank Jack for his kinds words, academic support and for sharing his ways of knowing, thinking and doing within Gallatin and the larger NYU community,” says Millery Polyné, Gallatin’s Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs. “He exudes a spirit of freedom and courage to speak the truth about oppression and inequality and he has inspired me and I'm sure countless others. Gallatin will miss him.”
His contributions to Gallatin and to the A/P/A are many. We are grateful for his singular vision and leadership and wish him all the best! Since Rutgers is only a stone’s throw from NYC, we hope we’ll hear from him often.