Carnegie Mellon University
February 02, 2024

American Historical Association Honors Alumna

By Stefanie Johndrow

During her sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon University, Jackie Wu (DC, TPR 2022) registered for the course “African Americans, Imprisonment, and the Carceral State,” taught by Joe William Trotter, Jr., the Giant Eagle University Professor of History and Social Justice. Meeting Trotter would shape Wu’s academic career.

Throughout the semester, Trotter was struck by the way Wu was able to connect the themes in the course to her experience as an Asian American. She shared her thoughts with classmates and inspired others to think more broadly about the African American experience and its connection to other minority groups in the U.S.

“I felt very fortunate to have her in that class,” Trotter said. “It was also a real joy advising Jackie’s senior honors project. From the outset, she clearly conceptualized her study and independently tracked down hidden but essential primary and secondary sources.”

Wu was pursuing a business major in the Tepper School of Business when she took Trotter’s course. By the end of the semester, she declared an additional major in social and political history in the Department of History.

Wu and Trotter holding awards from American Historical Association
Wu and Trotter holding awards from American Historical Association

In the fall, the American Historical Association (AHA) honored both Trotter and Wu with different awards. Trotter received the John Lewis Award for History and Social Justice.

Wu, who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in the Department of History at Yale University, received the AHA’S Raymond J. Cunningham Prize. The prize is awarded to the best article published in a journal written by an undergraduate student. Her project, “The Chinese Labor Experiment: Contract Workers in the Northeastern United States,” is derived from her senior honors thesis. At Yale, Wu is expanding on her work from her undergraduate career at CMU. She is studying history with an interest in Asian American immigration and race in the early 20th century.

The senior honors thesis program gives seniors in Dietrich College the opportunity to work on independent research and creative projects under the guidance of a faculty member. When it came time for Wu to select a faculty advisor for her thesis, Trotter was an easy pick.

“Going forward when I wanted to write a senior thesis, there wasn’t anyone in the department yet who specifically worked on my area of Asian American history,” Wu said. “I knew Professor Trotter writes a lot about labor history, so if I was trying to research Chinese immigration through the lens of labor I might get something really productive out of working with him.”

In October, Wu returned to Pittsburgh to give a presentation at the Heinz History Center. Wu’s presentation took place the same weekend as the Urban History Association conference, coordinated by Trotter. During her trip, Wu presented on Pittsburgh’s Chinatown and connected with Carl Kubler, a global historian of modern China and peoples of Chinese descent at CMU.

“I'm really excited about Professor Kubler's research and the classes he's teaching, as well as the expanded Asian American Studies course offerings at CMU. I hope students take advantage of these opportunities to learn about diverse Asian American experiences and stories, think critically about dominant narratives, and develop a fuller understanding of the present,” Wu said.