SASN Price Institute
49 Bleeker Street
Newark, NJ 07102-1913
Jack (John Kuo Wei) Tchen is a historian, curator, writer, and dumpster diver devoted to anti-racist, anti-colonialist democratic participatory storytelling, scholarship, and opening up archives, museums, organizations, and classroom spaces to the stories and realities of those excluded and deemed “unfit” in master narratives. Professor Tchen has been honored to be the Inaugural Clement A. Price Professor of Public History & Humanities at Rutgers University – Newark and Director of the Clement Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture & the Modern Experience, since Fall 2018. Decolonizing the histories of Newark, NYC, and our estuarial bioregion is his primary focus.
Engaged with global warming crisis, eco justice, and the deep history of the region, Tchen founded the New York - Newark Public History Project (or The Public History Project), funded by the Ford Foundation. And he has been appointed to the New York City Panel on Climate Change dealing with the 31-county regional estuarial impacts we are all facing. He has been supporting three Munsee Lunaape communities with their Homeland efforts reconstructing their language, maps, place names, and stories. He is working on a special report about the history of the estuarial region and the ecological impacts of settler colonialism and how their extreme extraction practices, driven by global trade and US expansionism—causing havoc to this day.
The PHP is reframing the history of the estuarial region starting with the foundational histories of dispossession and enslavement (work emerging from serving as a Commissioner on the NYC Mayor’s Commission on Monuments in 2018) as entangled with British “political arithmetic” quantifying and commodifying Indigenous North American lands and peoples into objects of imperialist “free market” trade. Today, our inability to grapple with the climate crisis is linked to our settler colonial illiteracy about the land and waters upon which we all live.
In 2021, Tchen co-organized the Anti-Eugenics Project to reckon with the centennial of the Second International Eugenics Congress held at the American Museum of Natural History in 1921. “Dismantling Eugenics” sought to surface, reckon, and transform the unresolved, disabling impacts of such practices and policies on the US political culture. This ongoing work on eugenics in the New York City region surfaces how patrician elites fashioned, tested, measured, sorted tiered hierarchic system of “fit” European-descended “Nordics” on top, and the rankings of the great majority of “unfit” below--resulting in the Immigration Act of 1924 and practices of sterilization and incarceration all still impacting US political culture to this day. Currently, the AEP is entering engaged
in Phase Two dialogues and readying for Phase Three modular, social media productions.
Tchen served as the senior historian for a New-York Historical Society exhibition on the impact of Chinese Exclusion Laws on the formation of the US (2014–15) and also as senior advisor for Ric Burns and Lishin Yu’s American Experience PBS documentary on the “Chinese Exclusion Act” (2017). His book 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—often recommended to gain perspective on the virulence and long history anti-Asian violence in the US and elsewhere.
Tchen was founding director of the A/P/A (Asian/Pacific/American) Studies Program and Institute, and part of the founding faculty of the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University (1996–2018). In 1980, he cofounded the New York Chinatown History Project, now called the Museum of Chinese in America.
In addition, Tchen has produced and curated many productions including websites, films, exhibitions, archives, and countless public and academic programs. He has written essays, articles, and authored/edited award-winning books, notably Genthe’s Photographs of San Francisco’s Old Chinatown (1984); The Chinese Laundryman: A Study of Social Isolation by Paul C. P. Siu (1987); and New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776–1882 (1999). In 2007 he was commissioned by The College Board to produce the report “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Fact, Not Fiction: Setting the Record Straight” (2008) challenging the divisions construction of the model minority.
While at NYU, Tchen built a major collection of Asian/Pacific/American books and community archives notably including the Yoshio Kishi Collection and the Jack G. Shaheen Collection of Anti-Arab representations in US television and Hollywood. In 2014, the A/P/A Studies Institute organized “Radical Archives” led by artists-in-residence Mariam Ghani and Chitra Ganesh with the threads Archive and Affect, Archiving Around Absence, Archives and Ethics, and Archive as Constellation. Tchen has written about and worked on underground archives, dialogue-driven museums, historic preservation, digital archives, the power of place, and decolonizing pedagogy.