Montana’s Historic Chinese Communities

In 1870, Chinese residents made up more than 10% of Montana’s population. Yet this population, so crucial to Montana’s history, remains underrepresented in historical accounts. Using documents left by Chinese pioneers—translated and interpreted for the first time—Mark Johnson recovers the stories of Montana’s Chinese population in their own words. Learn how Chinese Montanans advocated for their rights, and how they fought to keep their culture alive in an often-hostile environment.

In “Montana’s Historic Chinese Communities”, Mark integrates primary source research on the history of Chinese communities in Montana, notably through the translation and interpretation of hundreds of letters back and forth from China to Montana that testify to the experience of Chinese Montanans as straddling two worlds. From primary and other sources such as photographs, this talk examines the development and changes within Montana’s Chinese communities; and the growth and decline of Montana’s Chinese population.

Born and raised in Montana, Mark has always been interested in the region’s history. He had the opportunity to teach in China for eight years. During this time, he spent each summer in Montana and explored the connections between China and Montana. In these explorations, Mark found several large collections of documents in Chinese that had never been translated or interpreted. He crafted several transnational translation projects to bring students with the necessary language abilities to Montana to translate these documents, allowing for the first ever telling of the history of Montana’s Chinese communities in their own words. Mark has worked on elements of this research and storytelling since 2010, which will be utilized in his program, “Montana’s Historic Chinese Communities”.

Presenter Bio

Mark Johnson is an associate professor with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education. In this role, Johnson partners with Social Studies teachers who serve in Catholic schools across the country. In his history interests, Mark focuses on the Chinese experience in his home state of Montana. Previously working in China, Mark brought students with the necessary language abilities to Montana to translate several collections of documents from the state’s historic Chinese residents to work to tell their history in their own words. Born and raised in Great Falls, he now lives in Helena.


Mark Johnson