Steamboat Excursions on the Hudson for Chinese Americans, 1883

February 2021

This week we tackle the important history of race relations in America – through the lens of riverboat excursions for the Chinese community of New York in the 19th century. Dr Sam Willis speaks with Dr Marika Plater, who studies what low-income New Yorkers did for fun, outdoors, during the nineteenth century. Her work has shown how the most vulnerable New Yorkers used their limited free time to escape to environments that contrasted with their daily conditions. She follows the city’s workers as they walked to public parks in their neighbourhoods, took ferries and streetcars to beer gardens and pleasure grounds, and boarded steamboats headed to waterfront excursion groves. This episode focusses on steamboat excursions: what happened and how it was reported in the hostile political atmosphere of the era of Chinese exclusion in America.