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8th - 11th
1870 -1930
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Academic Standards (1)

CCSS English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6: Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence.

NCSS C3 Framework

  • D2.His.1.9-12: Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts
The statuette consists of a male Caucasian figure wearing a Liberty cap seated beside a large eagle in a nest, seeming to hold down an African American male. What appears to be a figure of a Chinese man is either attempting to climb into or is falling from the nest.
Sculpture illustrating Asian exclusion, 1880s
Gift of Mrs. Franklin Chace

Key Terms and Concepts

  • census
  • exclusion
  • quota
  • annexation
  • yellow peril
  • political cartoon

Essential Questions

How do our immigration laws reflect or contradict American values and traditions?


The Chinese Exclusion Act

Students will interpret, analyze, and compare multiple perspectives in editorial cartoons commenting on the Chinese Exclusion Act by charting, as a class, the objectives of political cartoons.


Warm Up (1)

Pose the following warm-up questions to students: Does the law shape our beliefs about citizenship and belonging or do our beliefs shape the law?

Close Reading (1)

Access this online collection of Harper’s Weekly materials, “The Chinese American Experience: 1857-1892.” Have students read the introduction written by University of Colorado at Boulder professor of history William Wei. Assign students to take notes and annotate the text as they read by using highlighters, underlining, and margin notes to identify the following:

  • Causes of Chinese exclusion (answers: economic competition, anxiety of white labor, racist ideology)
  • Short-term effects of Chinese exclusion (answers: lynching, boycotts, violence, poor working conditions, passage of discriminatory laws, Chinese Exclusion Act 1882)
  • Long-term effects of Chinese exclusion (answers: decline in Chinese population from 1890-1920, separation of Chinese families, embarrassment with allies)

Cartoon Analysis (1)

  • Editorial cartoons play an important role in civic life and political discourse. They capture nuances that can get lost in legislation, translate complicated ideas into accessible images and weigh in on controversial topics with humor.
  • Introduce students to two 19th-century cartoonists whose work illustrates opposing viewpoints on the “Chinese question.” Thomas Nast was an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly and shared the magazine’s editorial position of inclusion when it came to immigration. George Keller was a cartoonist from the West Coast and a contemporary of Nast. His illustrations reflected anti-Chinese attitudes and often “othered” or dehumanized Chinese immigrants.
  • Provide students with two copies of a cartoon analysis worksheet.
  • Model the analysis by doing a think aloud and completing the worksheet with students for the first cartoon.
  • Separate students into groups. Have students complete an analysis of a second cartoon.

Student Presentations (1)

  • Each group presents their cartoon to the class.
  • The teacher fills out a class chart based on worksheet responses for each cartoon.
  • Students tape their cartoons into the chart.

Exit Ticket (1)

Compare Nast and Keller cartoons on the chart. On a half sheet of paper, write three trends or differences you notice from the data the class compiled on the chart.