Theses Master's

"The Power of Storytelling": Case Studies on How the Community of Manhattan’s Chinatown Consciously Preserved the Chinese American Women’s History

Deng, Fei

The goal of this research is to figure out how spontaneous storytelling could contribute to the preservation of existing women’s history of ethnic enclaves like Manhattan’s Chinatown. Starting from the key questions put forward at the beginning of the thesis, the two cases in Chapter Three mainly focus on the following questions: Who are the initial narrators and how did they consciously preserve the historic legacy of women’s history by storytelling? When the narrators and methods of storytelling changed, can the activities of preservation still continue based on the existing storytelling? How did the gendered spaces are narrated in their storytelling?

From both the case of Mabel Lee and the women garment laborers' protest of 1982, one common characteristic of the storytelling is the conscious mention of the space-related memories, which shows as a historic “scene” to recall the memories shared among different generations of the community. By describing the activities that happened historically in the spaces, the storytelling re-discovered the value of the inundated places, which are always lacking conservation and historic interpretation. In this way, the spontaneous storytelling could be valuable, bottom-to-up way of preserving the local community’s underrepresented group’s historic legacy, because it could function as a storage of historic information before the story’s value was re-discovered by the public cultural organizations, and after the story’s historic value was re-discovered, it could build the language of its historic value based on the community’s emotional, in-situ memory of the space. Thus, by consciously collecting and preserving the trace of storytelling before the unrepresented women’s history was recognized and related landmarks was officially designated, and digging the space-related storytelling after the women’s history was publically narrated, the spaces with submerged history could get better preservation with the community’s understanding and support.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Dolkart, Andrew S.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
August 10, 2020