Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2018 Preservation Award Winners
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Photo of The Boston Chinatown Atlas

The Boston Chinatown Atlas

Education & Outreach

The history of Chinatown in Boston begins in the 1870s, when Chinese men began arriving from America’s West Coast fleeing anti-Chinese sentiment. Facing exclusion from working in factories and stores, they started their own laundries in Boston and other industrial cities in Massachusetts. Despite the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Chinese community grew in the early decades of the 20th century. As a result, the community began to offer activities and services to an increasing number of families and became more integrated into the fabric of Boston. For almost 150 years, Boston’s Chinatown has served as an economic, social, and cultural center for the Chinese-American community in Massachusetts.

In order to celebrate and commemorate this important community as well as to document its growth and change through time, the Boston Chinatown Atlas was established in 2016 by MIT Professor Emeritus Tunney Lee, David Chang, Randall Imai, Jonathan Wyss, Kelly Sandefer, Kye Liang, the Chinese Historical Society of New England, the Chinatown Lantern Cultural and Educational Center, the UMass Boston Institute for Asian American Studies, and many MIT alumni and community members. Divided into five eras extending from 1875 to the present, the engaging project website explores Chinatown’s history through time with personal stories, photos, maps, architectural renderings, and interactive features.

Since its launch in the summer of 2016, the website has made the history of Boston’s Chinatown accessible to a wide audience. Chinatown is the economic, social, and cultural center for one of the fastest-growing populations in Massachusetts, and the Atlas is an especially important project at this moment in time when Boston as a whole, including Chinatown, is undergoing rapid physical and demographic change. Recording history through photographs and oral histories as well as demonstrating the changing streetscape through elevation renderings of the neighborhood’s most prominent streets helps to explain how Chinatown has evolved both socially and physically. In addition to the website, the Chinese Historical Society of New England has created large-scale panels that showcase an abridged version of the Atlas. These panels can be shown at public events and, when not traveling, are kept on display at the China Trade Center in downtown Boston. The project complements the work of the Chinese Historical Society of New England, whose mission is to document, preserve, and promote the history and legacy of the Chinese community in New England.

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