Working Notes on Buddhist Material Culture at the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago

The World Parliament of Religions, held as one of the many international congresses at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, is often regarded as a significant factor in the birth of religious pluralism in the United States. Equally, it is treated as one of the earliest formal encounters between leading Asian missionaries and American audiences, leading to a wider acceptance of Eastern Religions. Here, I want to briefly look beyond the speeches and presentations given at the World Parliament of Religions and examine the broader presence of a Buddhist material culture at the fair which lasted from May through the end of October. Outside of the Buddhist representatives at the Parliament, an event that lasted only two weeks, what other ways were Americans interacting with expressions of Buddhism at the fair?

Figure 1

Hōōden (Phoenix Pavilion) on Wooden Isle at the 1893 Columbian Exposition
  • Japan Building (Phoenix Pavilion): The centerpiece of Japan’s exhibits at the Columbian Exposition was the Hōōden 鳳凰殿, or Phoenix Pavilion, a large wooden building that was built in Japan, disassembled, and then reconstructed by Japanese craftsmen in Chicago [Fig. 1]. The Japanese concession building was a slightly smaller replica of the Phoenix Hall (Hōōdō 鳳凰堂) at Uji in Kyoto Prefecture. The original building in Japan, also known as the Amida Hall, was part of the eleventh century Buddhist temple complex known as Byōdōin. The exposition replica, however, was not fitted with Buddhist imagery and ritual paraphenalia, but in the words of Okakura Kakuzō, was “modified to adapt it for secular use.” The building was gifted to the city of Chicago after the fair. After decades of decline, the site was refurbished and re-opened as a tea house in 1935 until 1941. Vandals set fire to the building in 1946, reducing it to ashes. A set of three transom panels from the original building still exist in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Figure 2

Front entrance to the Japanese exhibit in the West Court of the Palace of Fine Arts

Figure 3

Japanese exhibit on the second floor gallery of the East Court (note the entwined flags of Japan)

Figure 4

Japanese exhibit on the second floor gallery of the East Court

Figure 5

Kannon (Ishikawa Kōmei)

Figure 6

Gigeiten (Takenouchi Kyuichi)
  • Japanese Exhibit, Palace of Fine Arts: For the first time in the history of World Fairs, Japan was allowed to present works under the category of Fine Arts at the Columbian Exposition. Of the hundreds of works submitted and put on display, only about a dozen pieces directly represented Buddhist figures, Buddhist architecture, or Buddhist themes more generally. Japanese artworks occupied two areas in the Palace of Fine Arts, one on the main gallery in the west wing [Fig. 2] and the other on the second floor gallery surrounding three of the four sides of the central rotunda [Fig. 3]. Some of the most stunning sculptural pieces were Buddhist inspired and placed at the front and center of these exhibition spaces. Guarding one side of the entrance to the Japan exhibit on the main concourse was a giant bronze image of a fierce Buddhist figure who often protects the entrance of Japanese Buddhist temples, named Shukongōjin 執金剛神 (S. Vajradhāra)[Fig. 2]. This image was cast by Okazaki Sessei 岡崎雪聲 (1854-1921) and is currently owned by the Waseda University Aizu Yaichi Memorial Museum. A carefully carved miniature replica of the Yasaka Pagoda 八坂の塔 , executed by Niwa Keisuke 丹羽圭介 (1856-1941), was also placed in the alcove in front of the entrance [Fig. 2]. Lastly, a smaller image of Kannon Bodhisattva in ivory, carved by Ishikawa Kōmei 石川光明 (1852-1913), was also positioned at the entrance [Fig. 5]. One the second floor gallery overlooking the east court we find an expressive rendition of Gigeiten 技芸天 (S. Sarasvatī), a minor Buddhist deity who is considered a patron of the arts [Figs. 4 & 6]. This piece was carved in wood by Takenouchi Kyuichi 竹内久一 (1857-1916) and is currently owned by the University Art Museum at Tokyo University of the Arts.

Figure 7

Stereoptic view of the Japanese exhibit in the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building
  • Japanese Exhibit, Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building: At least one “handsome pagoda” was on display in at this exhibit [Fig. 7]. I have been unable to identify the maker of this object.
  • Japanese Exhibit, Horticulture Building: Japan’s horticulture and floriculture exhibit incorporated traditional stone lanterns (dōrō) into its garden displays.

Figure 8

Ceylon Building (Ceylon Court)
  • Ceylon Building (Ceylon Court): The official governmental building of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, occupied over 18,000 square feet and was comprised of a central octagonal hall with two wings spreading to the north and south [Fig. 8]. The architectural form borrowed from Sinhalese Buddhist temple design in the Dravidian style. Photographs of temples in Sri Lanka were hung throughout the court. Most notably, the main central hall was flanked on both sides by large statues, one of the sedent Buddha in meditation and one of a four-armed Viṣṇu painted in his characteristic dark blue hue. Figures such as nāgas, garudas, and yakṣas were also worked into various balustrades, pillars, and other architectural elements. A model of the Ruwanweli stūpa in Anuradhapura was constructed just outside of the main building, and was apparently “set apart for the use of the Ceylon court staff” [Handy 1893: 112]. After the fair, the main building was purchased by real estate mogul Frank R. Chandler and moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where it stood until it was demolished in 1958. While the front exterior of the building was commonly photographed, I have seen no imagery of the interior or the stūpa constructed in the back.
  • Sinhalese Exhibit, Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building: The Sinhalese pavilion in the Manufacturers Building was positioned between the Korean and Indian pavilions. It was reputedly created “in the form of a small Cingalese [sic] temple” [Bancroft 1893: 1.186, also Handy 1893: 112, White & Igleheart 1893: 135]. The interior displayed frescoes representing the life of the Buddha, which were made as copies from tenth and thirteenth century originals. Additionally, figures of the Buddha were found in the ornamental screen panels placed around the exhibit [White & Igleheart 1893: 135]. I have not located any photographs or illustrations of this exhibit.
  • Sinhalese Exhibit, Anthropological Building: The Ceylon Commission displayed a figure of a Buddhist monk and the Colombo Museum, now the National Museum of Colombo, provided a model of the Buddha’s tooth relic, presumably that which is preserved in Kandy, and a reliquary. Notably, a bronze statue of the Buddha was displayed by Don Carlos Appuhamy (1833-1906), a pioneer of the Buddhist revival movement in Sri Lanka and father of Anagārika Dharmapāla (1864-1933)[Handy 1893: 1102]. All of these objects fell under Group 164, which was described as “models and representations of ancient buildings, cities, or monuments of the historic period anterior to the discovery of America” [Anon 1891: 54]. I have not located any photographs or illustrations of this exhibit.

Figure 9

Interior of the East India Building
  • East India Building: Located close to the Sweden Building, the East India Building was a private venture funded by the Indian Tea Association of Calcutta. It occupied a 4,800 square foot footprint and was ornamented in an elaborate arabesque design [Handy 1893: 128]. The interior of the rectangular hall displayed goods for sale and was decorated with statues of the Buddha [Fig. 9]. Hanging signage advertised “Buddhist Idol [sic].” Additionally, “Burmese pagodas” were listed as on display in the official directory [Handy 1893: 274].

Figure 10

Siamese exhibit at the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building
  • Siamese Exhibit, Manufacters and Liberal Arts Building: Siam, now known as Thailand, did not construct a separate governmental building, but its pavilion located in the Manufacters and Liberal Arts Building was partly created in a traditional temple style with elaborate sloped roofs and inlaid glass mosaic [Mayer 1893: 10]. Images of the Buddha, framed by floral designs, were carved in ivory and hung at the entrance of the pavilion [Bancroft 1893: 2.220][Fig. 10].

Figure 11

Gandharan Buddhist relief on display in the Anthropology Building

Figure 12

Stone carving of the Buddha’s hand in the Anthropology Building
  • Private British Collection, Anthropological Building: A unnamed British collector of curios also displayed at least two Indian Buddhist pieces of artwork [White & Igleheart 1893: 424]. One was a Gandharan relief depicting a narrative scene in the life of the Buddha [Fig. 11]. This item was reportedly originally recovered by an officer in the British army. The other item was the remnant of the webbed hand of the Buddha [Bancroft 1893: 643, 661-662][Fig. 12]. I am unsure of the whereabouts of these two items today. The exposition’s Department of Ethnology was under the supervision of Frederick Ward Putnan, the director of the Peabody Museum at Harvard, who was also in charge of arranging the displays in the Anthropological Building. Due to various delays, the Anthropological Building was not ready for visitors until one month after the fair opened [Hinsley 1991: 349]. This might account for the difficulty in finding a detailed directory of the building’s contents or schematic map of its displays (as we find, for example, with both the Palace of Fine Art and the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building)[for diagrams of the fair’s buildings, minus the Anthropological Building, see Handy 1893]. Notably, while the outdoor ethnographic exhibits on the Midway Plaisance fell under the oversight of Putnam, in reality, Sol Bloom, an adroit San Francisco businessman, was in charge of their installation [Hinsely 1991: 349].
  • Foreign Missionary Society, Women’s Building: A collection of “curios” from foreign missionary work was placed on display, of which “converted heathendom has also contributed to the collection a Turkish prayer roll, and a Buddhist rosary.” [Bancroft 1893: 2.285]. I have not located any photographs or illustrations of this exhibit.
  • Chinese Exhibit, Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building: Since China declined to participate in the fair due to the recently enacted American laws against Chinese immigrants, especially the 1892 Geary Act, the Chinese presence was entirely comprised by private ventures. Merchants from Canton exhibited Chinese goods at the Manufacturers Building, which reputedly included tiny carvings of joss houses and pagodas [Bancroft 1893: 2.221]. I have not located any photographs or illustrations of this exhibit.

Figure 13

Exterior of the Chinese Village on the Midway Plaisance

Figure 14

Interior of the Joss House

Figure 15

Interior of the Joss House
  • Chinese Village, Theatre, and Joss House, Midway Plaisance: The Columbian Exposition was divided into two sections. The first was comprised mainly of large neoclassical buildings which housed the displays of international exhibitors. Known as the White City (or Dream City), this section was interpreted as by contemporary visitors and modern scholars as the utopian vision of a good, modern life. In contrast to the educational function of the exhibits in the White City, the carnivalesque amusement concession, known as the Midway Plaisance, was in the words of Robert Rydell, the “honky-tonk sector” of the fair. [Rydell 1978: 255]. Under the supervision of Sol Bloom, the Midway was principally a commercial endeavor, populated by displays installed by private entrepreneurs. The Wah Mee Exposition Company, operated and financed by three Chinese immigrants, opened a building complex that housed a Chinese theater, tea house (in some maps erected separately on the southern side of the Midway walkway), restaurant, shopping bazaar, shrine hall, and living diorama of daily life in a Chinese village. The shrine hall, adopting the common American nomenclature of “joss house,” was located on the second floor of the large building in the rear of the concession space. While some fairgoers describe the entirety of the hall as “Buddhist,” photographs reveal a relatively typical Chinese American shine populated with folk deities, semi-historical figures, and tutelarygods. It is very likely an image of Bodhisattva Guanyin was included on the altar, although I cannot clearly locate one in the surviving souvenir photographs. Textual accounts also note an additional display of Yama’s Ten Courts of Hell where different figures are represented in various modes of karmically determined tortures. Although the concession was created for tourists, the joss house appears to have been a fully functional shrine hall. At the closing of the fair, the contents of the joss house were auctioned off, but a few items were sold to the Field Museum, including a set of fortune sticks.

Other exhibits that could have displayed Buddhist objects: Japanese Bazaar, Midway Plaisance; Korean Exhibit, Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building; East Indian Exhibit, Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building; East Indian Exhibit, Anthropological Building; Gunning Collection, Anthropological Building; Cullin Collection, Anthropological Building.

Sakaeya’s Real Photo Postcard of Old Shinkōji

[This belongs to a series of posts dedicated to exploring ephemera that depict Buddhist imagery now lost or destroyed.]

The Kamakura period (1185-1333) was a time of intense religious activity in Japan. In particular, Buddhist priests who promoted faith in Amitābha Buddha, a figure who resided in the Western Pure Land and taught those fortunate to be reborn there, were influential in shaping the future of Japanese Buddhism. The founder of the Ji School (Jishū 時宗) of Pure Land Buddhism, Ippen 一遍 (1239-1289), was among the more obscure of these figures, but traditionally he is given the honorific title, Shōnin 上人, a name reserved for the most eminent of Buddhist priests. He is perhaps most celebrated for his sixteen year period of homeless wandering as a holy mendicant during which he distributed small talismans bearing the name of Amitābha Buddha. A central practice of the Pure Land schools was reciting this buddha’s name, thus the practice was called nembutsu 念仏, “recalling [Amitābha] Buddha.” Ippen sought to encourage this salvific practice among as many people as he could reach. In 1289, he passed away in a hall dedicated to the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteśvara, in a small temple that would soon come to be known as Shinkōji 真光寺. Located in Hyōgo, far from the Japanese capital, Shinkōji never became a powerful center of Japanese Buddhism, but it’s connection to Ippen – as it would come to house his remains – would garner it a small bit of local fame.

When foreign tourists first started traveling in large numbers to Japan in the last decades of the nineteenth century, Yokohama was the main port of entry for people traveling across the Pacific Ocean. The port of Hyōgo, which came to be subsumed by its neighbor Kōbe in 1892, was the next harbor that ships used when taking passengers further south along the Japanese coast. The ships would then eventually continue on to China, if not further west or even around the globe. This influx of travelers gave sites around the port of Kōbe more attention, of which Shinko-ji received a small share. For example, the temple was noted as being “worth a visit” by the widely circulated third edition of Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Japan, published in 1891.[1] It was also noted in Keeling’s Guide to Japan, a popular illustrated guidebook sold in Yokohama at Adolfo Farsari’s shop. The centerpiece for most foreign tourists was a large bronze statue of a buddha, situated outside the main temple gate. At a height of just under sixteen feet, the statue was not as colossal as the Great Buddha in Kamakura, but its placement in the middle of a lush lotus pond made it a picturesque and desirable location for visitors to enjoy. While some sources claim the Shinkōji statue depicts Amitābha Buddha, the iconography suggests Vairocana Buddha, an identification substantiated by Shinkōji today.

Figure 1

  • Title/Caption: The Shinkoji Temple, Hyogo-Kobe
  • Year: 1920’s
  • Publisher: Sakaeya & Co.
  • Medium: silver gelatin print on cardstock
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.3 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Postcard/郵便はかき

The postcard here depicts the Shinkōji statue atop its pedestal in the middle of the lotus pond [Fig. 1]. To the left of the statue is a large gable roof structure which acted as the main gate giving access to the inner monastic compound. Behind the plastered wall we see the tiled roofs of the bell tower and main hall. The small pond in front was used to rescue and release turtles.

The English caption clearly denotes the location of the image, but the Japanese caption provides more commentary on the religious relevance of the site. It notes that this temple as sacred location where Ippen passed away, a story that would resonate more with Japanese pilgrims than Western tourists. This also tacitly acknowledges the diverse reasons for visiting temples, as more foreign visitors were interested in seeing – and capturing – the picturesque sites of Japan. Like curio collectors they could return home with their souvenir spoils.

Figure 2 (detail of Figure 1)

The large halo fixed to the statue’s upper back, suggesting a radiant glow emanating from the icon, helps draw attention to the calm features of the buddha’s face [Fig. 2]. Without a person in the picture for scale it is difficult to assess that the statue is much larger than life-size; a person standing atop the ivy covered base would barely surpass the height of the square white stone pedestal.[2] The pole to the left of the pedestal appears to support a small round light that is level with the statue’s head. Viewed from the harbor, the city of Kobe and surrounding hillsides were known to cast a delightful glow at night, suggesting electric lights were installed throughout the region. When turned on, this light likely would have cast a gentle glow on the buddha’s face at night.[3]

Figure 3

Figure 4

Unlike many Japanese produced postcards of the time, this is not a photomechanical print made with ink, but a silver gelatin photograph. Thus, this “real photo” postcard was chemically processed as a photograph on cardstock bearing a postcard design. By the early 1920’s several Japanese publishers were issuing real photo postcards as part of their commercial catalogues. Sakaeya & Co., the publisher of this postcard, was based in Kobe and many of its cards depict the environs of the bustling port city. The lion insignia in the stamp box was the trademark of Sakaeya, which was one of the largest distributors of postcards in Japan [Figs. 3 & 4]. Based on similar cards issued by other publishers, this card likely dates to the early 1920’s.

During World War II, the entire Hyōgo ward of Kōbe was destroyed by the allied firebomb attacks in March 1945. Most of “Old” Shinkōji was destroyed and the statue at the front gate appears to have been lost.[4] Temple records reveal the statue was installed on temple grounds in 1760. Nineteenth century Japanese photography studio prints and twentieth century picture postcards remain some of the best artifacts cataloguing this wonderful piece of Japanese Buddhist art.


*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in America. All items (except otherwise noted) are part of my personal collection of Buddhist-themed ephemera. I have also published my working notes on identifying publishers of Meiji and early Taishō postcards and establishing a sequential chronology for Kamakura Daibutsu photographs.

[1] This statement mirrors the comments of globetrotter Edmond Cotteau, who visited Kōbe in late 1881 and published Un touriste dans l’Extrême-Orient: Japon, Chine, Indo-Chine et Tonkin in 1884, see p. 208.

[2] The height of the Shinkō-ji statue is noted as being 4.8 meters tall. This height is equivalent to the traditional measurement of “one and six shaku” (一丈六尺 ichijō rokushaku, often shortened to jōroku 丈六), which was considered to be the true height of the historical Buddha while standing. Many “Great Buddha” images in Japan were made to match this height. Since the Shinkōji image was made sitting, it would be close to twice the traditional height of the Buddha.

[3] The pole does not appear in studio photographs from the nineteenth century, nor in postcards issued before 1918. Another postcard in the Archive clearly shows wires leading from the pole to behind the statue towards the wall (it is missing a light bulb, however). It also shows towering wooden power lines in the background, proving the temple had electricity by at least the early 1920’s. See a cropped image of this postcards here:

Power lines run from the temple to the pole in front of the pedestal; also note the power lines supported by the wood tower in the background (on the right).

[4] The temple website does not currently count the statue as among its current holdings. It is worth noting that a statue of the Buddhist figure Jizō was enshrined in 1936 and still remains on the temple grounds, thus some objects did survive the bombing. I have not found any resource to confirm the statue was destroyed, but it does not appear to be on display at this point. As for now, I must leave the question regarding the statue’s current existence as unknown.


  • Fujimoto Kōzaburō 藤本弘三郎, ed. 1933. Nihon shaji taikan: jiin-hen 日本社寺大観寺院編. Kyoto: Hinode Shinbunsha. [here]
  • Kaufman, Laura. 1992. “Nature, Courtly Imagery, and Sacred Meaning in the Ippen Hijiri-e,” in Flowing Traces: Buddhism in the Literary and Visual Arts of Japan, eds. James H. Sanford, William R. LaFleur and Masatoshi Nagatomi, Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 47-75.
  • Yanagi Sōetsu, and Waddell, Norman. 1973. “Ippen Shōnin,” The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 33-57.

Working Notes on Burmese Postcard Publishers

During the long period of British rule in Burma (modern Myanmar), the Imperial Post Office of India, established in 1837, oversaw all mail delivery across British India, which included a circuit in eastern-most Burma. Postcards were introduced through the British postal department in 1879 and were first marketed at the inexpensive rate of a quarter-anna. That same year, a popular Indian newspaper proclaimed, “Postal cards are now a rage all over India.”[1]

The immediate popularity of the mail system, and postcards in particular, was not the case in Burma, however. Few Burmese elected to use the colonial mail system (unlike in India, Burma had no native mail system previous to British occupation) and postal employees conversant in Burmese were difficult to recruit. By the 1890s, postcards were still a rarity in both Lower and Upper Burma. And while more then fourteen million letters and postcards were sent across the Burmese province in 1900, more than three quarters were written by non-Burmese.[2] Nevertheless, a viable commercial postcard market grew in the first decade of the twentieth century, centered in the provincial capital of Rangoon (modern Yangon). Most of the early Burmese postcard publishers operated professional photography studios and thus many postcard images can also be found in commercial tourist albums now in personal and private collections around the world. This included the work of Felice Beato, Philip Klier, D.A. Ahuja, and Frederick Albert Edward Skeen and Harry Walker Watts. A sizable collection of Burmese postcards can be found in the Pitt Rivers Museum archive at the University of Oxford, donated in 1986 by the Burma-born artist Noel F. Singer, and the wonderfully digitized collection of Sharman Minus.

D. A. Ahuja

Reverse of Ahuja studio carte-de-viste mounting card. Ahuja was at this address from approx. 1906-1920.

The firm D.A. Ahuja & Co. was the largest publisher of postcards in colonial Burma and continued operation through the early 1960s. Very little is known about the personal life of the proprietor, D.A. Ahuja (fl. early 20th c.), but he claims to have established his business in Rangoon in 1885. It is likely he immigrated from India, along with thousands of other Indians during the colonial period, but his family’s precise origins remain debated, with both Punjab and Shikarpur (in modern Pakistan) as suggestions. The earliest firm documentation comes in 1900, when he announced the change of his company name from Kundandass & Co. to his own personal name, located at 87 Dalhousie Street in Rangoon. The following year Ahuja published a photography manual in Burmese and in English translation, with the latter entitles Photography in Burmese for Amateurs. In a 1917 advertisement, pictorial postcards remained “a specialty” for Ahuja, but his business had expanded beyond photography and involved exporting a wide variety of Burmese goods.[3]

Ahuja produced some of the most distinctive and vibrant color postcards in South Asia. As is noted on the reverse of his cards, they were printed in Germany, then the commercial center of postcard printing. German printers used as lithographic-halftone hybrid process, first applying layers of color using a lithographic substrate and then applying a black halftone screen. Only the final key plate (i.e. black ink plate) carried the fine detail of the photograph. Several of Ahuja’s images were taken from his competitors, including Philip Klier and Watts & Skeen. While Ahuja apparently bought out the photographic stock of Watts & Skeen, Klier filed a lawsuit against Ahuja for copyright infringement in 1907. Klier won the claim, but it appears Ahuja paid for the rights to reproduce Klier’s photographs since he continued to print them years after the lawsuit.

I still remain uncertain when the colonial British post office allowed divided back postcards. This began in England in 1902, but thus far I have not confirmed if this was the case for the Post Office of India. Postcards were first introduced nine years later in British India, thus I assume there might be a lag in changes in Indian postal code.

Undivided Back

Type 1: This is the only undivided back design I have seen from Ahuja, printed in a distinctive evergreen color. It cannot predate his business name change in 1900. I have not seen any examples with a printed stamp box. Note that the design is similar to the undivide Klier card.
The obverse always leaves a small portion of the card on the bottom (for both vertical and horizontally oriented photographs) blank for correspondence. The photograph is otherwise bled to the edges of the card. The caption uses red ink with an italicized front.

Divided Back

Type 2: I presume this to be the earliest divided back design of Ahuja cards since it follows the undivided back design so closely. Again, I have not seen any examples with a printed stamp box. Significantly, there also appears to be a renumbering of the photographic stock numbers when compared to the same images on the undivided back cards.
In many cases a blank space with caption is retained on the obverse, just as we saw with the undivided back specimens. In a handful of cases, the photograph is bled to all edges of the card and the caption is printed directly atop the image.
Type 3: The black ink design signals an overhaul of the entire card design by Ahuja. The stock number is brought to the front of the publisher line. Ahuja’s use of the word “copyright” is very inconsistent. I have noticed, however, that he uses the term when his is copying a photograph of Klier, a rather unintuitive practice given a lawsuit was brought against him by Klier in 1907. The upper limit of stock numbers for the black-back design I have seen thus far is 155. The earliest cancellation date I have seen for this design is November 1907.
We now encounter Ahuja’s distinctive captioning style, a white label placed at the bottom of the image. There are slight variations in font, but I have not been able to trance out any rationale for the changes.
Type 4: A green ink is now used for the reverse design. “Printed in Germany” is marked in the stamp box. All notices of “copyright” are removed, even if the photograph was originally taken by Klier (I presume Ahuja obtained the rights after the lawsuit). The upper limit of stock numbers for the green-back design I have seen thus far is 614. The earliest date I have seen for this design is August 1912.
Type 5: This card design remains curious to me. It retains the older method of placing the stock number at the end of the publisher line, but still has the stamp box marking printing in Germany. The obverse design also has a white border around the photograph with the stock number as part of the caption.

Philip Klier

Reverse of Klier studio carte-de-viste mounting card.

Philip Adolphe Klier (1845-1911) first arrived in Moulmein, Lower Burma, in 1870 and established business that offered a range of services, one of them being a photography studio. By the late 1870s he created a large portfolio of photographs and moved to a new location in Rangoon, the bustling capital of British Burma. Klier’s business continued after his death for about another decade.

Klier produced large format albumen prints of various locations around Burma, focusing on the major cities of Moulmein, Rangoon, and Mandalay. His studio photographs would be inscribed with the name of the locaiton and a stock number while later photos from the late 1880s or early 1890s would also include his name. A large digitized collection of Klier’s work is housed at the National Gallery of Australia. It is difficult to ascertain when Klier started publishing postcards from his photography stock, but it was certainly sometime during the 1890s, perhaps as early as 1890. Noel Singer has suggested the well known German printer, Verlag v. Albert Aust, in Hamburg partnered with Klier to produce a series, Birma Series Asien.[4] The earliest issues (at least, imprinted with Klier’s name) were collages, typically of two or three monochromatic photographs with significant blank incorporated around the images for correspondence. Eventually, this style gave way to single photo cards and then colored cards.

The analysis below is preliminary – there appear to be a wide variety of variants in both the obverse and reverse design.

Undivided Back

Type 1: The reverse for the Birma Series Asien cards issued by Verlag v. Albert Aust.
In addition to the caption providing the location of the photograph, a series stock number was included.
Type 2: The reverse deign for the early monochromatic collage cards (see above). Except for the inclusion of the stamp box, this design is similar to the back of the undivided Ahuja cards. The collage cards backs are typically in red ink.
The obverse of the collage cards, in addition to the caption, would incorporate Klier’s name and address, and the word “copyright” – presumably in accordance with new trademark laws enacted in 1894 (see Berchiolly 2018: 98n.16).
Type 3: The reverse design for an unknown publisher that used Klier’s photographs, only identified by Klier’s inscription on the original photograph, not imprinted on the card. Not all cards with this reverse design have a photograph with Klier’s inscription in view, thus more research needs to be done on these issues.
Type 4: Similar to the reverse design above, the obverse bears a single image bled to three edges (the bottom or right side is left blank for correspondence). The image could be monochromatic or polychromatic. Some monochromatic images are printed in dark blue ink for both the obverse caption and reverse design. Colored images typically have black ink reverse designs, like above. I presume these to be later than the collage cards with red ink reverse designs.
The obverse bears Klier’s name and a stock number.

Divided Back

Type 5: A reverse design for monochromatic images bled to all four edges.
Type 6: A reverse design for monochromatic images bled to all four edges. I am unsure of the number in the bottom right.
Type 7: A reverse design for colored images. I am unsure of the number in the bottom right.


[1] Clarke 1921: 8.

[2] Frost 2016: 1059.

[3] Berchiolly 2018: 113. I am indebted to Berchiolly’s work for the life of Ahuja and Klier.

[4] Noted in Berchiolly 2018: 98.


  • Berchiolly, Carmin. 2018. “Capturing Burma: Reactivating Colonial Photographic Images through the British Raj’s Gaze,” MA Thesis, Northern Illinois University.
  • Birk, Lukas and Berchiolly, Carmín. Reproduced: Rethinking P.A. Klier and D.A. Ahuja. Vienna: Fraglich Publishing.
  • Clarke, Geoffrey. 1921. The Post Office of India and its Story. London.
  • Davis, G., and Martin, D. 1971. Burma Postal History. London.
  • Falconer, John. 2014. “Cameras at the Golden Foot: Nineteenth-century Photography in Burma,” in 7 Days in Myanmar: A Portrait of Burma by 30 Great Photographers, by John Falconer, Denis Gray, Thaw Kaung, Patrick Winn, Nicholas Grossman, and Myint-U Thant. Singapore: Didier Millet, pp. 27-29.
  • Frost, Mark. R. 2016. “Pandora’s Post Box: Empire and Information in India, 1854–1914,” English Historical Review, Vol. 131, No. 552, pp 1043-73.
  • Imamura, Jackie. “Early Burma Photographs at the American Baptist Historical Society,” Archives, Vol. 4, No. 1. [here]
  • Khan, Omar. 2018. Paper Jewels: Postcards form the Raj. Mapin Publishing Pvt. Limited. [also see website below]
  • Sadan, Mandy . 2014. “The Historical Visual Economy of Photography in Burma,” Bijdragen Tot De Taal-, Land- En Volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia, Vol. 170, pp. 281-312.
  • Singer, Noel F. 1993. Burmah: A Photographic Journey, 1855-1925. Gartmore, Stirling: Paul Strachan Kiscadale.
  • Singer, Noel F. 1999. “Philipp Klier: A German Photographer in Burma,” Arts of Asia, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 106-13.

Online Resources

A Visual Primer for Chinese Mountain Censers (Boshan lu)

Two centuries before the Common Era, ideas about distant mountains being home to immortal beings started to gain popularity in the Chinese imperial courts. The first emperor of a unified China, Qin Shihuang (r. 221 – 210 BCE), in his quest for an elixir that would extend his life, even sent a mission to investigate the location of the isles of immortals thought to exist off the eastern coast. Ideas like these reflect the social, political, and religious significations of mountains in the ancient Chinese imagination.

As a generic type, boshan lu 博山爐, often translated as “mountain censers,” represent a long East Asian artistic tradition of crafting incense burners in the shape of a mountain. The form first originated in the second century BCE and continued (with slowly lessening popularity) for hundreds of years. The apex production of mountain censers was during the Han Dynasty (202BCE-220 CE) when bronze foundries perfected the delicate craftsmanship necessary to create ornate mountainscapes crawling with people and fantastic creatures. Apertures, often hidden within the craggy rock face, would emit the smell of burning incense and animate the visual scene with curls of rising smoke.

After the Han, the mountain censer was more frequently made in ceramic and regional variations started appear, sometimes creating an object that bore only the faintest resemblance to the Han prototypes. Floral elements became increasingly common, sometimes completely replacing the mountain cliffs with petals. Abstraction became the norm as more regional kilns started to produce mountain censers in addition to a range of different censer designs.

Here I provide a simple visual narrative of the mountain censer with minimal comments in the captions. If you’d like more information about these censers there is plenty of other information online and I’ll leave a few recommendations at the end.

Too often, East Asian art history books, or even world art textbooks, show one among a handful of very early, and very ornate, mountain censer specimens. (It’s typically one of the first three below.) Those designs, all made for members of the imperial family, did not last very long, and the mountain censer form underwent significant changes throughout the centuries. This is meant to be a visual primer for the long history of the mountain censer form.

Each image below is made in a 16×9 slide format; feel free to download the images for classroom use. If you’d like better resolution images feel free to email me: pmr01ATucsbDOTedu. _/|\_

Standing at nearly 11 inches in height, this is an exquisitely crafted vessel. Small figures of humans and animal are included in the folds of the rocks. It has become customary for modern scholars to claim mountain censers depict the land of the immortals (xian 仙), mythic beings envisioned since the Han to occupy islands off China’s eastern coast . The mountain censer is most often believed to depict the immortal isle of Penglai 蓬萊 rising up from the sea.
Animal motifs were frequently incorporated into the decor of the mountain censer. The lower register of openwork around the lid here depicts fantastic beasts such as the dragon and phoenix. Many mountain censer have trays; their use has been in dispute since the Song dynasty. Some claim the trays were used to hold water to cool the device when in use (and also vivifying their representation of the isles of the immortals), while others claim it was for catching ash.
This censer has two inscriptions telling us that it was cast in 137 BCE and made to be housed in the imperial Weiyang Palace (Weiyang gong 未央宮). The censer body is held aloft by gilded bronze bamboo stem that terminates at the top with three dragons holding the basin.
Because mountain censers appear in the archaeological record rather suddenly, one scholar, Jessica Rawson, has proposed a hypothesis that older Central Asian censers with conical lids may have inspired Chinese artisans. The “Rawson hypothesis” is partly founded on a well known claim – that by the second century BCE, China had ongoing contact with regions further west.
Metal workers would sometimes embellish the stem of the vessel with creatures, here depicting a bird or phoenix standing atop a turtle while holding the censer basin in its beak. Above, we saw a man atop a beast holding the censer. Below, we will see two twisting dragons acting as the stem.
Chinese archaeologists unearth amazing finds every year. This mountain censer was recovered from a tomb discovered in 2011. The original excavation report claimed to find the residue of burned aromatics inside the vessel.
Many recovered mountain censers are more simple in design, sometimes rendering the mountain with less embellishments and less sculptural depth. Concerns with functionality are also expressed; this censer is fashioned with a hinge (seen on the right side) so the lid can be flipped open.
Through the Han and into the Jin, more mountain censers were made in ceramic. This one includes a bird at the top, a feature that also appears in earlier bronze mountain censer designs, as well as older Chinese incense burners that are shaped like chalices (i.e. ritual dou 豆 vessels).
Many ceramicists started to play with the basic design of the mountain censer, creating far more abstract renditions. Here the mountain cliffs resemble the petals of a flower calyx or even the fingers of a flickering flame.
Significant regional differences also start to manifest in ceramic mountain censer designs. The previous two examples were produces at kilns in modern Zhejiang, while this specimen was made in Jiangxi. Note, for example, the elongated rocky outcroppings and the overall taller profile.
While there was a native Chinese artistic tradition of depicting lotus flowers, the influence of Buddhist motifs, especially the frequent use of new lotus flower imagery, cannot be overlooked in later mountain censer designs. Curiously, we find a head protruding from the lotus placed atop this censer lid. The abstract horn shapes surrounding the body of the censer was popular in the kilns of Fujian.
Here we see the side of a lotus flower etched into the censer basin.
This ceramic censer is influenced by the Buddhist sculptural and architectural tradition of reliquaries, known in Sanskrit as stūpa. As was commonly seen in those forms, and here, a spire with discs was placed atop the structure.
One of the more common elements in later medieval censer design was to render the basin into a lotus by surrounding it with petals.
Similar to the above design, in addition to the lotus petals, the top of the lid was decorated with a flaming pearl motif, representative of the iconography of the Buddhist wish-fulfilling gem (in Sanskrit, cintamani).
The mountain censer design lasted into the Song, a full thousand years after it first appeared. By this time, the mountain censer was just one incense burner design among many and it no longer garnered the same social or religious significance of centuries earlier.
The Song was also a period of great trade in foreign incense, with frankincense and aloeswood being two of the more popular imports into China.
This simple, but elegant design that gained popularity in the Song was continued through to the Ming. You can see the faint design of lotus petals around the basin.
As late as one hundred years ago, before the widespread use of modern archaeological techniques, it was believed that mountain censers were the first type of incense burner in China. New finds have shown that incense burners go back to the third century BCE, if not one or two centuries earlier.
Arguably one of the more elaborate and beautiful mountain censers was excavated in Korea in 1993. Standing at over two feet tall, it is considered a National Treasure of Korea.

*There are hundreds of mountain censer designs, I tried to select versions where I could find a good resolution photograph and information about its provenance and current ownership. I claim no ownership of the original photos and only use them here for educational purposes. Unfortunately, for many of the censers, especially the ceramic ones, I did not readily find information about their sizes so I decided to omit that information. The censers noted as part of a private collection were found on Chinese auction sites with no indication of the identity of the final bidder.

**Like deleted scenes in a movie, this is bonus dissertation material – thoughts and ideas that will never make it into my finished work, but stuff I love to talk about nevertheless.

Further Reading [English Resources]

  • Erickson, Susan N. 1992. “Boshanlu: Mountain Censers of the Western Han Period: A Typological and Iconological Analysis,” Archives of Asian Art, Vol. 45, pp. 6-28.
  • Kirkova, Zornika. 2018. “Sacred Mountains, Abandoned Women, and Upright Officials: Facets of the Incense Burner in Early Medieval Chinese Poetry,” Early Medieval China, Vol. 24, pp. 53-81.
  • Laufer, Berthold. 1909 [1962]. Chinese Pottery of the Han Dynasty. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
  • Rawson, Jessica. 2006. “The Chinese Hill Censer, Boshan lu: A Note on Origins, Influences and Meanings,” Arts Asiatiques, Vol. 61, pp. 75-86.
  • Wenley, A.G. 1948/1949. “The Question of the Po-Shan-Hsiang-Lu,” Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America, Vol. 3, pp. 5-12.

2020 Protest Pedagogy/Black Lives Matter Selected Teaching Resources

Here’s a short list of resources for university instructors and students that have been published or initiated – or have belatedly appeared on my radar – over the past week. It’s purposefully broad in scope, some pedagogical development, some personal development, some general (essential) reading.

For a very thoughtful discussion about the limitations of sharing anti-racist reading lists without further pedagogical guidance, see What Is an Anti-Racist Reading List For? by Lauren Michele Jackson. I think it strikes at the core mission of university instructors to foster new ways of thinking and cultivate new habits, not just deposit facts to those who are poorly prepared to think through them. [NB: There is a selection bias below for the humanities and religious studies.]

Syllabus Content/Readings

1. Institutionalized Racism: A Syllabus [JSTOR Daily]

“The United States has seen escalating protests over the past week, following the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis police. Educators everywhere are asking how can we help students understand that this was not an isolated, tragic incident perpetrated by a few bad individuals, but part of a broader pattern of institutionalized racism…The following articles, published over the course of JSTOR Daily’s five years try to provide such context.”

2. 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds: Selections from the Archives of City & Society on Racism, Policing, and Protest [“Virtual issue” of journal City & Society containing free access articles, edited by Julian Brash, Sheri Lynn Gibbings, and Derek Pardue]

“In keeping with our responsibility to cultivate a national and international community of critical scholars of urban life, the editors of City & Society offer this selection of articles, accessible to all, from our archives as a small act of solidarity with all of those outraged and bereaved by the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and so many others.”

3. Black History Month Library [Google Drive via Charles Preston]

A sizeable collection of black authors’ works (as pdfs) arranged by genre and author’s name.

Critical/Anti-Racist Pedagogy

1. Naming Resistance and Religion in the Teaching of Race and White Supremacy: A Pedagogy of Counter-Signification for Black Lives Matter [article by Martin Nguyen for Race & Pedagogy Journal, Vol. 4, No. 3]

“The need to bring religion into our teaching of race and white supremacy is critically important, but by simply naming it, we take the first step in inviting our students to understand the how’s and why’s of it. The pedagogy of naming described herein, which is inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, is theoretically grounded in the theory of signification and counter-signification developed by scholars of religion, Charles H. Long and Richard Brent Turner…Specifically, the study draws upon teaching units from my Black Lives Matter course in order to address how a critical analysis of Christian privilege and Christonormativity, Islam, and religious history can figure into critical engagements with race and white supremacy.”

2. Journal of the American Academy of Religion – Roundtable on “Religio-Racial Identity” [Vol. 88, No. 2; six articles plus introduction, need institutional access]

“Religious studies has a race problem. If recognition of a problem is the first step in addressing it, then calling out our race problem should draw our attention to the seemingly self-evident categories, questions, and modes of analysis through which we study ‘religion.'” (Laura McTighe)

3. Scaffolded Antiracism Resources [Google Doc via Anna Stamborski, Nikki Zimmermann, and Bailie Gregory]

“This is a working document for scaffolding anti-racism resources. The goal is to facilitate growth for white folks to become allies, and eventually accomplices for anti-racist work.”

Chart used as part of an “Integration” activity in the above resource. Derived from Dwight Turner’s “‘You Shall Not Replace Us,’ White Supremacy, Psychotherapy, and Decolonization,” British Journal of Medical Psychology 18(1), pp. 1-12.

4. Essential BLM Reading [Google Doc]

A tightly curated and annotated bibliography (with links) to several influential authors, including works on pedagogy (Freire, Fanon, Baldwin, Davis, etc.)

Additional Resources

1. BLM Resources Master Doc [Google Doc]

Massive list of links to websites and other resources regarding potential donations locations, useful organizations, important petitions, protest resources, and general anti-racism resources.

2. How I’ve Implemented an Anti-racist Approach in My Teaching [Alyshia Gálvez, blog post]

One scholar’s practical approach to critically analyzing your syllabus

I have attempted to curate this list with new resources or items that speak directly to the current protest movements arising around the globe. There is a history of excellent research on anti-racist/decolonizing education that I do not attempt – nor would I have the requisite knowledge – to cover here; I suggest searching for phrases such as: “anti-racism syllabus,” “anti-racist pedagogy,” “decolonizing the syllabus,” and “protest as pedagogy,” among others, as a start. Endless gratitude to my friends and colleagues who alerted me to the existence of several of the resources above.

[An earlier post with resources about teaching with equity during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here: 2020 Pandemic Pedagogy: Selected Resources]

*Frontispiece: Local artists painting plywood boards in downtown San Diego, June 2020. Photo by Peter Romaskiewicz.

Map of Temples in San Francisco’s Chinatown 1850s-1906

Dedicated to Philip Choy (1926-2017)

About this Map and Urban Chinese Temples

This map locates many of the Chinese temples built in San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake and fire. Known generically as miao 廟 (or miu in Cantonese), meaning temple or shrine, most of the non-Chinese American public referred to these structures as “joss houses” in the nineteenth century. A principle function of these temples, from which their American names derived, was to house Chinese religious icons, commonly called “joss.” Rarely, however, did urban temples occupy a whole building; temples were more typically semi-public shrine halls located on the top floor of a multi-story structure. Moreover, these temples were not operated by religious institutions and almost all were owned and operated by various community organizations. Often the largest temples were operated by different district associations (huiguan 會館), while other temples were run by secret fraternal organizations (tang 堂) or various other associations organized around clan lineages or trades. Most temples housed numerous icons that would be worshiped for an array of reasons, but often a temple would be “dedicated” to a single figure who functioned like the patron deity of the association or guild. This icon was typically placed in the central shrine of the main shrine hall. The other floors of the building could have smaller shrines or be used as meeting rooms and work spaces for the organization.

About this Project

Much of the nineteenth and early twentieth photography and illustrations of Chinese religious sites remain unidentified because they are often labeled or captioned as generic “joss houses.” To facilitate identification, I compared contemporary written accounts with items from the visual record of Chinatown and cross referenced them with maps and listed addresses of known temples. The end product was the identification of many images of unknown religious sites and the location of several temples of which we only had a written description. I’m publishing here a basic map of the Chinatown temples I have identified. I used the 1885 San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors’ Map as the basis for the main map (directly below) and the 1887 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map and the 1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map to help track changes over time. Ultimately, this is the byproduct of a larger project I am currently working on regarding the material culture of early Asian American religions. If you have any questions or comments about this map or imagery, please contact me! Email: pmr01[AT]ucsb[DOT]edu.

Numbers on the map correspond to the temples listed in the key below. A “[?]” indicates that I have not been able to identify an exact address for the temple and its placement on the map is approximate. The last temple marked with an “X” was located on Pine Street which is not included on this map. I have decided to keep the Romanization for the organizational names as they appear today (even if they no longer operate temples in San Francisco) and provide the Pinyin with Chinese characters in parenthesis. Lastly, this map is syncretic, not all of the temples existed at the same time; please see individual temple descriptions below.

Map of Temples in San Francisco’s Chinatown: 1850s-1906


The oldest temples in Chinatown are thought to be the Sam Yup temple [#7], more popularly known as the Tin How Temple (Tianhou miao 天后廟) and the Kong Chow temple [#X], both believed to have been constructed in the early 1850s. Waverly Place, the two-block road between Sacramento Street and Washington Street, was known among the Chinese as Tin How Temple Street (Tianhou miao jie 天后廟街) and became the home to the greatest density of Chinese temples by the 1890s. The most popular sites for tourists were the two locations of the Ning Yung temple [originally at #21, then at #4], the original Hop Wo headquarters and temple [#20], and the Yeong Wo temple [#19].

Among the temples listed on the map where the central icon can be identified, three were dedicated to the semi-historical figure Guandi 關帝 [#21/#4, #20/#11, #X], two were dedicated to the Empress of Heaven (i.e. Tianhou), also known as the goddess Mazu 媽祖 [#7, #14], and one to the popular Buddhist figure Guanyin Bodhisattva [#10]. Another popular icon was the Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heavens (Xuantian shangdi 玄天上帝), also known as the Emperor of the North (Beidi 北帝), whose icon may have traveled between three different locations [#12, #14, #8], in addition to having his own temple in the 1890s [#5]. Among the numerous fraternal societies that operated temples [including #16, #17, #18], the Chee Kong Society [#9] and Gee Tuck Society [#8] operated two of the most popular.

Selected Temples (With selected Information and Imagery)

1. Lung Kong Association (Longgang gongsuo 龍岡公所)[9 Brooklyn Place]: the central icons were five glorified cultural heroes, Liu Bei 劉備 (center), Guan Yu 關羽 (center right), Zhang Fei 張飛 (center left), Zhao Yun 趙雲 (far right), and Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (far left)[for more on the image below, see here]

Main shrine of temple, from Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine, April 1888, photograph by Iasiah Taber

2. Temple of Golden Flower (Jinhua 金花)[4 Brooklyn Place]: the central icon was Lady Golden Flower (Jinhua niangniang 金花娘娘), a figure known to protect the health of women and children

Interior of the Temple of Golden Flower, illustration from Masters’ “Our Pagan Temples” (1892)

3. Lord Tam Temple (Tamgong miao 譚公廟)[Oneida Place]: the central icon was Lord Tam, often considered a patron saint of seafarers, this temple was in existence in 1892

4. Ning Yung Association (Ningyang huiguan 寧陽會館)[25 Waverly Place]: constructed around 1890, the central icon was Guandi [see also #21]

Illustration of the second story balcony of the temple, from Masters’ “Our Pagan Temples” (1892)

7. Sam Yup Association (Sanyi huiguan 三邑會館)[33 Waverly Place]: also known as Tin How Temple, the central icon was Tin How (the Empress of Heaven, also known as Mazu); the temple is believed to have opened in 1852 and was operated by the Sam Yup Association until at least 1899 before changing hands

Photo of front steps of temple, photo by Arthur Genthe, from his Old Chinatown (1912)

8. Gee Tuck Society (Zhide tang 至德堂)[35 Waverly Place]: a central icon was the Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heavens; this temple was in existence by the mid 1880s

Fritz Muller postcard of Tin How Temple with the Gee Tuck temple on top floor of taller building on right (publication c. 1905)

9. Chee Kong Society (Zhigong tang 致公堂)[32 (or 69) Spofford Street]: the central icon remains unknown

Photograph of second and third stories of the Chee Kong building by Adolph Wittemann, from his Chinese Customs (1892) [4/2021 Update: Chuimei Ho has kindly informed me this is a photograph of the Chee Kong lodge in Portland, not San Francisco; indeed the brick work is different on the two buildings.]

10. Guanyin Temple (Guanyin miao 觀音廟)[60 Spofford Street]: the central icon was Guanyin

11. Hop Wo Association (Hehe huiguan 合和會館)[840 Washington Street] the location of the Hop Wo Association headquarters in the mid-1880s, I am unsure if they had a temple at this address as well [see also #20]

12. Eastern Glory Temple (Donghua miao 東華廟)[possibly 929 Dupont Street]: opened in 1871, a central icon was the Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heavens

Central shrine of Eastern Glory Temple, stereoview photograph by Eadweard Muybridge (c. 1871)
Likely illustration of Eastern Glory Temple, Harper’s Weekly, 25 March 1871

13. Yan Wo Association (Renhe huiguan 和會館)[St. Louis Alley/933 Dupont Street]: the central icon was possibly the Buddhist heavenly king Virūpākṣa (Guangmu tianwang 廣目天王) [4/2021 update: some sources claim it was Guandi]

14. Jackson Street Temple/Temple of Li Po Tai [730 Jackson Street]: a central icon was the Empress of Heaven or possibly at one time the Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heavens; the famed Chinatown physician Li Po Tai (Li Putai 黎普泰) may have owned this temple, thus tracing its opening to the early 1870s

Possible illustration of Jackson Street Temple or Eastern Glory Temple [#12], from Shearer, The Pacific Tourist (1876)

19. Yeong Wo Association (Yanghe huiguan 陽和會館)[approx. 728 Sacramento Street]: the central icon was the semi-historical figure Houwang 侯王

Image of Houwang, photograph from “Cymbals Crash…,” San Francisco Call, 22 September 1903

20. Hop Wo Association (Hehe huiguan 合和會館)[751 Clay Street]: in existence by 1876 if not much earlier, the central icon was Guandi [see also #11]

Shrine of Guandi, from Masters’ “Our Pagan Temples” (1892), photograph by Iasiah Taber

21. Ning Yung Association (Ningyang huiguan 寧陽會館)[517 Broadway Street]: constructed in 1864 and used until around 1890, the central icon was Guandi [see #4]

Illustration of temple interior, from unknown periodical [here]

X. Kong Chow Association (Gangzhou huiguan 岡州會館)[512 Pine Street]: constructed in 1853, the central icon was Guandi

Illustration of temple interior, from Loomis’ “The Heathen at Our Doors” (1870)

Online Resources:

Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee ( This group published an initial map of Chinatown organizations in 2018 [here], upon which I have expanded and fine-tuned. I owe the initial impetus of creating a temple map to the outstanding editors of that website.

Weidner’s Postcard of the Five Idols of Lung Gong Temple

(Note: This post does not discuss Buddhist imagery, but examines the religious imagery of Chinese immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century)

Chinese immigrants arriving in San Francisco in the middle of the nineteenth century would be met at the docks by agents of various Chinese associations known as huiguan 會館. These agents would inquire about the newcomer’s place of origin and based on the response each immigrant would be assigned to a corresponding huiguan association. Because common geographic origins formed the organizational principle for the huiguan, these are often translated as “district associations,” referring to the shared native districts of its members as well as the shared regional dialect, local customs, and close family or clan ties among inhabitants of the same locality.[1] American press at the time often referred to these organizations as “companies,” such as the famous Six Companies confederacy, but district associations functioned in far more dynamic ways than as just brokers for Chinese labor. They would provide social support and economic aid for all of its members by providing room and board for new arrivals, lodging and medicine for the sick, loans for those in need, and even legal council for Chinese immigrants facing racial discrimination. Moreover, each district association constructed its own building to accommodate all of these important functions, often reserving the top floor for religious icons where worship could be performed and offerings could be made.[2]

Non-Chinese observers would frequently refer to these buildings as “Joss Houses,” with joss being an Anglicized reading of the Portuguese deus, “god.” Thus, in the minds of many Americans, a principle function of the district association buildings was to serve as sites of religious worship where incense sticks, then commonly known as joss sticks, would be burned and offered to enshrined religious icons. By the 1870s, white Americans would regularly visit the Chinatowns in San Francisco and New York where these temples, along with Chinese restaurants, theatres, markets and curio shops, and opium dens were considered the main attractions. Not surprisingly, local commercial studios took photographs of these same attractions and made them available for purchase in a variety of formats. Exterior architectural photographs showing the display of Chinese plaques and lanterns adorning the association buildings were relatively commonplace, while interior photographs of the shrine halls and religious icons were rather rare.[3] Furthermore, narrative ethnographic accounts given in newspapers, magazines, and guide books rendered these icons invisible in another manner, by regularly dismissing them as “heathen idols” and “grotesque figures.”[4] Given the American Protestant opposition to idolatry, the materiality of Chinese religious practice was often overlooked or, more commonly, openly denigrated.

Figure 1

Yet, the potential commercial appeal for Chinese religious imagery did not escape all professional photography studios. One of the most reproduced photographs of a Chinatown joss house altar, made as engravings in magazines and on books covers, and eventually as lithographic postcards at the turn of the century, was taken by the San Francisco-based photographer Isaiah West Taber (1830-1912).[5] Entitled “The Five Idols in the Holy of Holies in the Joss Temple of Lung Gong,” the photograph was taken in 1887. According to Taber’s 1889 catalogue, he sold the photograph in both 18×22 inch and 8×10 inch formats.[6] In the early 1900s, this image was licensed by two popular San Francisco-based postcards publishers, Edward H. Mitchell (1867-1932) and Charles Weidner (1866-1940) [Fig. 1], thus diffusing the photograph of Chinese religious icons to even wider audiences. The photograph of five similar altar figures with long beards, richly brocaded garments, and peacock feather headdresses undoubtedly played to the sensibilities that Chinese temples housed garish idols that deemed no further serious investigation.

Map 1

From “Official Map of ‘Chinatown’ in San Francisco” (1885), David Rumsey Collection

The identification of these five idols does not seem to be discussed in scholarly literature and will be examined here. The Temple of Lung Gong refers to the headquarters of the Lung Gong Association 龍岡公所 (Longgang gongsuo), now known as the Lung Kong Tin Yee Association 龍岡親義公所 (Longgang qinyi gongsui). According to the association’s own account, the Lung Gong Ancient Temple 龍岡古廟 was constructed at 9 Brooklyn Place, in an alley branching off Sacramento Street, in 1875 [Labeled “New Joss House” in Map 1] .[7] A nineteenth century source claims the construction cost over fourteen thousand dollars, and contained handsome carvings and embroidered decorations.[8]

Though similar in function to district associations, Lung Gong membership did not derive from native districts, but from familial clans, specifically serving members of the Lau/Lew 劉 (Liu), Kwan/Quan 關 (Guan), Cheong/Jeong 張 (Zhang), and Chin/Chew 趙 (Zhao) lineages.[9] The grouping of these four family lineages was not accidental, as each name can be traced to figures who played a prominent role in Chinese history during the period of the Three Kingdoms (220-280), namely Liu Bei 劉, Guan Yu 關, Zhang Fei 張飛, and Zhao Yun 趙雲. Moreover, the stories surrounding these figures were dramatized and romanticized in the fourteenth century historical novel the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo yanyi 三國演義), further casting them as important Chinese cultural heroes. The historical origins of the association derive from a story preserved in the Pervasive Record of Guang[zhou] and Zhao[qing] (Guangzhao tongzhi 廣肇通誌). This tells of sacred hill named Lung Gong (Longgang, “Dragon Ridge”) that was located near the village of Kaiping 開平 which served as the ancestral home to the Liu clan. The hill was coveted by several powerful local clans, thus, based on the legends of faithful partnership in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Liu allied itself with the Guan, Zhang, and Zhao clans and constructed a temple on the hill to claim lasting ownership.[10] According to this record, the first Lung Gong Ancient Temple was constructed there in 1661/2. By 1827 a Lung Gong association comprised of these four clans was in existence in Singapore, a precursor to its expansion to America later in the century.[11] The San Francisco temple, along with it records, were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. A new building was constructed on Stockton Street in 1910 before the association moved to its current location on Grant Avenue in 1924.

Figures 2-6

Returning to the photograph of the Lung Gong altar, knowledge of the association’s history provides us some leverage in identifying the religious icons. One contemporary nineteenth century article claims the central figure raised above the others is Lau Pay, who we can identify with confidence as Liu Bei (161-223), the celebrated emperor of the southern Shu 蜀 kingdom during the Three Kingdoms period [Fig. 2].[12] To Liu’s proper left we find Guan Yu (d. 220), often deified as Guangong 關公 or Guandi 關帝, the famed military general who had several shrines dedicated to him across Chinatown [Fig. 3].[13] To the proper right of Liu we find Zhang Fei (d. 221), another general who along with Liu and Guan became sworn brothers as dramatized in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Religious iconography (shenxiang 神像) of Zhang often gives him bulging eyes, an attribute we can easily identify in the photograph [Fig. 4]. Sitting furthest to the right side of the photograph is Zhao Yun (d. 229), another lauded general who served under Liu [Fig. 5]. These four figures comprise the four family clans that formed an alliance under the Lung Gong organizational banner. Sitting furthest to the left of the photograph is Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181-234), a famed chancellor to the state of Shu. He is easily identified by the feather fan he holds [Fig. 6].[14] While each of these figures have origins as celebrated civil and military heroes of the early third century, their apotheosis took place over the succeeding centuries and were absorbed into what scholars sometimes term Chinese folk or popular religion. These icons, made of carved wood, hair, fabric, and feathers, would have reminded a Chinese immigrant of his or her nation’s rich history filled with tales of heroes exhibiting a conquering spirit.  

Sitting on the table in front of the five image we can see five urns for burning incense. Incense was among one of the most common offerings to religious icons, in addition to food and drink that would be given to nourish them. Faintly visible in front of the censers are canisters filled with thin slivers of bamboo used for divination. Typically these would be used in conjunction with two kidney-shaped wood blocks that would be tossed on the ground and interpreted to understand the will of the deity. Thus, as American commentators were often quick to note, immigrant Chinese had no fixed day or time for religious service, but instead came when they had a concern or problem they wished to resolve. Communication with the deities through offerings and divination practices formed the backbone of daily worship.

While seemingly documentarian in nature, this image emblazoned on Weidner’s postcard heightens the sense of Chinese religious practice as merely idolatrous. No context is given in the caption to identify the figures or state their importance to a Chinese worshiper. Even the specific location of the shrine is erased with the generic “joss house” employed instead. No nuance is given to the variety of Chinese religious icons or religious sites across San Francisco’s Chinatown or throughout the United States.[15] In some ways, this image becomes voyeuristic, a lurid glance into a religious life that was almost wholly mysterious.

Figure 7

Turning to our object’s materiality, Weidner chose to have his cards printed in Germany, the center for postcard production at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Auto-Chrom logo indicates that Louis Glaser of Leipzig was the printer [Fig. 7]. Glaser used a relatively complicated chromolithography process that required multiple lithostones, minimally between 4-6 printing substrates, with each printing a separate hue.[16] This process rendered a high quality print of vibrant colors and deep contrast. When the card was first issued, Weidner was still working with an unknown partner named Goeggel whose name disappears from cards issued around 1904. Weidner reissued his series of Chinatown views after the 1906 earthquake with an extended, and often provocative, caption. For example, his original card depicting a pair of young Chinese girls is captioned simply with “Chinese girls,” but his post-earthquake issue is re-captioned “Chinese aristocrats, reduced to poverty by earthquake and fire April 18,1906.” Several Chinatown street scenes are noted as being “destroyed by earthquake and fire,” while his card depicting the Lung Gong shrine is noted as being “smashed and reduced to ashes.” The wording is particularly evocative of iconoclastic sentiment, suggesting that divine providence caused the earthquake that ultimately halted the unwholesome heathen practices. Curiously, Weidner changed his role from publisher of the first card, to photographer of the second, even though he still used the same photograph taken by Taber two decades earlier.

Both cards bear an undivided back, dating the first to between 1901 and 1904 (when Goeggel departed), and the latter to between 1906 and 1907.


[1] Huiguan had their origins in sixteenth-century China when Cantonese merchants started these mutual aid organizations in various Chinese cities to help sojourning merchants and craftsmen originating from the same locality with room and boarding, among other forms of social and economic assistance. Huiguan were later instituted overseas as Chinese settled abroad, such as in Singapore and the Phillipines and eventually the United States. Because of their similar organizing principles and purposes, huiguan are often compared to German Landsmannschaft. For the Chinese origins of huiguan and associated craft guilds, see e.g. Moll-Murata 2018, esp. pp. 321-348. For the early history of huiguan in the US, see Armentrout-Ma 1983, Lim 1987, and the more recent Qin 2016.

[2] Some of these shrine halls were not open to the general public, but huiguan buildings would often have organizational halls for various secular functions that also housed small shrines, thus blurring clear demarcations in the use of these spaces for the visiting public. Independent temples, often open to the public, were also constructed around San Francisco, such as the structure at Lone Mountain cemetery constructed by the Six Companies for all Chinese to make offerings to the spirits of the dead, see Qin 2003: 228. Importantly, the distinctions between shrines, shrine halls, and temples is not emic. For example, the famous Tin How Ancient Temple 天后古廟 (Tianhou gumiao), the presumed oldest Chinese temple in California founded in 1852, likely occupied the top floor of the Sam Yup 三邑 (Sanyi) district association building on Waverly Place and was not its own building. Today, the temple occupies the top floor of the Sue Hing Benevolent Association 肇慶會館 (Zhaoqing huiguan) building that was reconstructed after the 1906 earthquake; for more on the worship of Tianhou in the US, see Kuah-Pearce & Huang 2012. Likewise, around 1853­, the Sze Yup 四邑 (Siyi) district association opened a temple dedicated to Guandi 關帝 on the corner of Kearny and Pine Streets, a location that matches its organizational headquarters at 512 Pine Street (address cited in Berglund 2005: 21). The multipurpose use of such buildings in San Francisco can also be found in New York City, where the Chinatown “city hall” at 16 Mott Street housed the Fan Tan Hong (“Fan Tan Syndicate”), the Quong Ying Lung Company (a mercantile establishment), the Sing Me Hong (a laundryman union), the meeting hall of the Mee Shing Kung Saw, and a shrine hall to Guandi on the top floor, see Maffi 1995. Nineteenth century maps and Chinatown guidebooks would often simply refer to these buildings as Joss Houses or temples, even though the activities engaged therein would vary considerably, see for example the 1885 “Official Map of ‘Chinatown’ in San Francisco” in the David Rumsey collection which depicts thirteen different Joss Houses of which only two are denoted as belonging to particular district associations. In 1892, Methodist pastor Frederick Masters counted a total of fifteen “heathen temples” in San Francisco, but more regularly assigned them to particular organizations, see Masters 1892.

[3] Eadweard J. Muybridge (1830-1904) was among the earliest photographers to take an interior photograph of a Chinatown joss house. The photographs were as part of a series of stereoviews of the Pacific Coast bearing the sequential numbers of 840-847. One stereoview (#843; held by the Getty Museum), dated to about 1870, shows three figures behind a joss house altar, with the central icon representing the Emperor of the North 北帝. The editors of the Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee website believe this photograph to depict the interior of the Tung Wah Temple 東華廟 (Donghua miao) once located on Dupont Street; see Carlton Watkins (1829-1916) was another professional San Francisco-based photographer who took another early stereophotograph of the entrance of an unknown joss house, see

[4] Many of the more robust descriptions of nineteenth century Chinese temples in America were offered by protestant ministers such as Augustus Ward Loomis, Otis Gibson, and William Speer, see Maffly-Kipp 2005. The quote of “heathen idols” here was taken from the comments of Gibson, see Berglund 2005: 23. “Grotesque idols” was taken from an anonymous newspaper article entitled “The Joss-House,” see Anonymous 1878.

[5] The photograph was rendered into full page engraving accompanying “The Chinese Joss-House,” in Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine, April 1888, p. 312. The article notes that Taber used a calcium light to produce sufficient interior illumination to make the exposure. It can also be found in Florence V. Hughes’ “San Francisco’s Chinatown,” in The Golden Rule, May 20, 1897, p. 688 (also see the illustration in Masters 1892: 735). The image was also used as the cover illustration for William Bode’s Lights and Shadows of Chinatown, see Maffly-Kipp 2005: 85-6.

[6] Taber 1889: 5-6. Taber also sold an interior photograph of the Hop Wo 合和 (Hehe) temple showing the image of Kwang Koong 關公 (Guangong).

[7] See Zhao undated. For further passing mention of this association, see Lim 1987: 31-2 and Qin 2016: 36. According to Masters, this temple was a few doors down from the Kum Fa 金花 (Jinhua) temple, also on Brooklyn Place, see Masters 1892: 737-9. Both of these temples are see on the 1885 Chinatown map in the David Rumsey collection, see footnote above.

[8] Masters 1892: 739. Taber took anohter photograph of the Lung Gong incense table [see here]. Regrettably, I have been unable to identify an exterior photographs or illustrations of this building.

[9] Since many Chinese villages were comprised of members of the same family linage and possessed the same surname, family associations and district associations were organized on similar principles in practice. For the minor differences between huiguan and gongsuo see Moll-Murata 2018.

[10] See Liu undated and Lim 1987: 48-9n.61.

[11] Lim 1987: 32.

[12] Masters 1892: 739.

[13] Known since the seventeenth century as the “Saint (or God) of War” (wusheng 武聖) and honored for his loyalty (zhong 忠) and bravery (yong 勇), a deified Guan Yu was widely celebrated among immigrant Chinese. The Ning Yeung甯陽 (Ningyang) district association joss house, widely described as the finest in Chinatown, was dedicated to Guangong, see Andrews 1870: 470 and Masters 1892: 728-32 (the temple apparently moved between these two descriptions, from Broadway to Waverly). The Hop Wo and Kong Chow (formerly part of the Sze Yup) associations also had shrines dedicated to Guangong, see footnotes above.

[14] Further information about the background stories and iconography of the images can be found in Stevens 1997: 145-50.

[15] This point is made more forcefully in Maffly-Kipp 2005.

[16] I estimate six or seven color lithostones were used in addition to the black key plate in our specimen. Chinatown is the subject in these Weidner postcards (using stock numbers printed on the obverse or reverse of the cards): 14, 15, 16, 21, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 140, 142, 156, 162, 190, 458, 459, 589, 590, 591, 592, 593, 596, 597, 598, 599, 600, 690, 694. The cards issued before the 1906 earthquake have at least four designs in total: 1) credit printed on obverse as “Goeggel & Weidner, Publishers”; 2) credit as “Charles Weidner, Photographer”; 3) added reference to earthquake in caption; 4) place credit on reverse (with divided back).


  • Andrews, Sidney. 1870. “The Gods of Wo Lee,” Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 25 (April), pp. 469-79.
  • Anonymous. 1878. “The Joss-House,” Chicago Daily Tribune (September 1), p. 16.
  • Armentrout-Ma, Eve. 1983. “Urban Chinese at the Sinitic Frontier: Social Organizations in United States’ Chinatowns, 1849-1898,” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 107-135.
  • Berglund, Barbara. 2005. “Chinatown’s Tourist Terrain: Representation and Racialization in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco,” American Studies, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp. 5-36.
  • Kuah-Pearce, Khun Eng and Huang, Yedan. 2012. “The Flow of the Traders’ Goddess: Tianhou in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century America,” in Narratives of Free Trade: The Commercial Cultures of Early US-China Relations, eds., Kendall Johnson. Honk Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. 163-76.
  • Lai, Him Mark. 1987. “Historical Development of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association/Huiguan System’, in Chinese America: History and Perspectives, ed. Chinese historical Society of America, San Francisco: San Francisco State University, pp. 13-51.
  • Liu Weisen 劉偉森. Undated. “Longgang shilüe ji sixing yuanyuan” 龍岡史略及四姓淵源 [A Brief History of Longgang and the Origins of the Four Families], May 20, 2020,
  • Maffly-Kipp, Laurie. 2005. “Engaging Habits and Besotted Idolatry: Viewing Chinese Religions in the American West,” Material Religion, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 72-96.
  • Masters, Frederick J. 1892. “Pagan Temples in San Francisco,” The Californian Illustrated Magazine, Vol. 2 (November), pp. 727–41.
  • Maffi, Mario. 1995. Gateway to the Promised Land: Ethnic Cultures in New York’s Lower East Side. New York: New York University Press.
  • Moll-Murata, Christine. 2018. State and Crafts in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Qin, Yucheng. 2003. “A Century-old ‘Puzzle’: The Six Companies’ Role in Chinese Labor Importation in the Nineteenth Century,” The Journal of American-East Asian Relations, Vol. 12, No. 3/4, pp. 225-254.
  • Qin, Yucheng. 2016. The Cultural Clash: Chinese Traditional Native-Place Sentiment and the Anti-Chinese Movement. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
  • Stevens, Keith. 1997. Chinese Gods: The Unseen Worlds of Spirits and Demons. London: Collins & Brown.
  • Taber, Isaiah W. 1889. Catalogue: Pacific Coast Scenery. Alaska to Mexico. Views, Albums, Transparencies, Etc. Oakland: Oakland Tribune Publishing Company. [viewable here]
  • Zhao Zhengzheng 趙錚錚. Undated. “Meiguo yu sanfanshi longagn qinyi gongsuo jianjie” 美國與三藩市龍岡親義公所簡介 [A Brief Introduction to the Long Kong Tin Yi Association of American and San Francisco], May 20, 2020,

Primer for Online Student Discussion Forums

Given the widespread preference for asynchronous low-bandwidth teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s a quick primer on trying to keep some person-to-person interaction in your not-really-designed-to-be-online online course.

In the hopes of being pragmatic, I discuss what I do and why I do it. There are other ways of running online discussion, this is only one example. A more theoretical, yet still highly informative, discussion of running online forums by Ester Trujillo can be found here. Another article with useful tips published recently in Inside Higher Ed can be found here.

The ideas I discuss below approach more of an ideal scenario with plenty of time for planning, but several different ideas here can be cobbled together for a completely serviceable experience for everyone. Lastly, I’ll admit I describe a fairly programmatic approach to running discussion forums, some may feel more comfortable with a more open-ended approach that suits their teaching style.

What software can I use?

All major college and university Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as Canvas, Moodle, or Blackboard, are designed with a discussion forum where students can reply directly to one another.

Other chat-room or messaging software possibilities include Slack, Packback, Flipgrid, or Discord, among many others. Of these, I’ve only used Slack and it’s pretty great. Slack is available as a free desktop app or free mobile app and was designed for collaboration and project management across different groups. Because of this functionality Slack works perfectly well within an educational context where peer-communication is important. Students can interact in “channels” (essentially, discussion rooms) that are set up to handle specific topics, readings, lectures, etc. There is a very minimal learning curve and I know some instructors who prefer Slack over the discussion forums found in their LMS.

Packback is specifically designed for educators, while Flipgrid is a higher bandwidth option for interacting with short videos. Discord is popular among gamers and thus many students may be familiar with how it operates. I’ve also seen some instructors suggest using private Facebook groups, Reddit, or Twitter.

What about basic logistics, like frequency of assignments and due times?

In the past, I’ve had students post before every face-to-face (F2F) class meeting, including during summer sessions that met four days a week. Otherwise, to lessen some of the work burden when teaching a writing intensive course, I would not have students post on days when a writing assignment was also due. In an online environment, it is more likely these discussion posts will form the backbone of the virtual classroom experience and thus will be assigned with regularity.

When I use discussion forums in F2F classes, I use class time to have small group discussions. For online courses, this peer-to-peer interaction occurs by having students post comments on other students’ posts. Because of student workload, I would suggest allowing at least one full day, if not two full days or more for everyone to comment (certainly more than a few hours). For example, if an assignment is sent out Monday, the posts would be due by Wednesday and comments due by Friday. As I will discuss below, I think it is worthwhile for the instructor to provide some comments about the entire discussion at the end of the week, more-so than commenting on every individual student post.

I would also recommend dividing students into small groups (of 3-5 students), either for the duration of the course or for shorter intervals of time. This can be done easily with the software noted above and gives the opportunity to create a better sense of community among members of the small groups. This can also help develop deeper dialogues between students over the long run.

How can I assess students’ posts?

Providing guidance to student on how to think critically and share ideas in online discussion forums is important. The directions you provide should give insight to the kind of critical thinking you want your students to perform. Do you want students to synthesize information or analyze it? Do you want them to offer critiques of arguments or to ask questions? Do you want students to make connections to real life scenarios or to tie ideas back to integral course themes? Do you want students to exhibit creativity or to show command of the material?

Broadly speaking, your means of assessment must be transparent and clear, thus the directions you give should be chosen carefully. If the directions are clear, you can create an easy rubric for students as well. Here are a few considerations.

Quantity: You will likely want to establish a minimum number or words (or sentences, perhaps) that each student’s post will contain. Between 100 words and 250 words is reasonable, but this depends on your goals for the assignment. I would suggest the limit is equally about how much time you can devote to reading every student post on a regular basis – longer is not necessarily better.

Quality: While some may prefer to leave student responses more open-ended, I would strongly suggest having structure. For example, because cultivating citation habits are important in my courses, I require students to include the page numbers of the passages they comment upon. This is in addition to several other aspects I incorporate:

  1. “1BT”: If you are going to ask students to answer specific questions about a reading, try to make sure those questions are open-ended. Do not ask questions about specific content, this turns the entire exercise into a search for a few key terms in order to answer the prompt. I will often assign what I call the 1BT, the “1 Big Thing” (thanks, Scott Van Pelt), where I ask the students to comment on their biggest takeaway from the reading, what they think they will remember for a long time, or why they think I assigned the reading. Sometimes, I will reframe the 1BT as the “1 Big Theme” and I will ask the students to locate a course theme in the reading, often when it is not explicit in the reading.
  2. “3CQs”: In addition to the 1BT above, I will also ask students to answer the 3CQs, or “3 Critical Questions.” These are simply noting what information was new and interesting, what information was old or already discussed in our class (or elsewhere), and what information was odd or confusing. Each of these responses has to be justified or explained in some detail (X was interesting because Y). I would also encourage students to speculate answers to the questions they posed about what they found confusing. (Only in writing this did I discover that Jenn Stewart-Mitchell developed a similarly named “3C&Q model” in relationship to commenting on student posts, see here.)
  3. Other: One could also ask students to summarize the main points of a reading (synthesis), or identify the thesis or conclusion along with the main pieces of evidence (analysis), or isolate what they think is the weakest piece of evidence (critique). I’ve found asking students to make analogies to be the best conversation starters, namely asking student to link the reading to something in the real world, or something in their personal experience, or something they’ve learned previously.  

How can I assess students’ comments on posts?

In order to avoid simple compliments (Great idea!) or critiques (I disagree), some structure should also be given to comments.

Quantity:  You should decide the minimum number of interactions per assignment. Two or three comments per student is reasonable. The word count will typically be significantly less than posts, maybe 30 or 50 words.

Quality: I generally take the position that a comment should either add (agree), subtract (disagree), or clarify. By “adding,” I mean the comment explains how the post generated new ideas or helped create new links to other information for the commenting student. By “subtracting,” I mean the comment critiques the claims in the post in some manner or sets forth an argument for a different interpretation of the reading. By clarifying, I mean the comment poses a question about the post or asks if a certain interpretation of the post (explained in the comments) is what the original post author intended.

How can I grade students’ discussion posts? Do I need a grading rubric?

I would strongly suggest you use a simple 2-level grading scale, like pass/not-pass. The more intricate the grading system, the more time you will spend grading, so keep it simple. This is especially true if you will be grading hundreds of these discussion forum posts over the duration of the course. Many may still prefer a 3-level system, such as excellent/satisfactory/fail. This is fine, just make sure to clearly articulate the difference between an excellent and satisfactory grade.

I more typically use a mastery/redo scale. If the student does not meet all of my criteria for mastery, they have to redo, or in many cases refine, their work. Only if they do not redo the work will they fail that assignment. Of course, this means the first assignment or two requires close attention and more feedback on my part, but I’ve found that front-loading my efforts pays off in the long run.

If your expectations and directions are clear enough, a rubric will be simple enough to craft. And while you do not need a rubric, at least your expectations should be made clear. Below is what my discussion rubric looks like based on the discussion above.

What type of feedback should I provide?

Individual feedback for the first week or two is important to make sure every students knows how to properly engage with quality commentary in the discussion forums. This means making sure students are following directions or are interacting in appropriate ways. Otherwise, my commentary on individual posts is minimal. Sometime I will jump in to stir the pot, or to challenge a claim, or to offer praise, but more often I will let students discussions move forward naturally.

At the end of a block (or week, or module, or whatever), I would suggest making a few summary comments about the discussions that occurred. This means trying to find trends that cut across groups (if you use groups), highlight anything that stuck out as exemplary (and ask students to model, perhaps), and otherwise note how those discussions will build to the following week’s work. It’s also nice to point out when discussion moved in direction that you didn’t expect – what topic or themes emerged that were not originally obvious to you, or what ideas or concepts were not covered by the students that you thought were important.

What if students are rude to one another?

It’s definitely worth having a “netiquette” discussion early. If possible, have students themselves craft “rules of engagement.” Some ideas can be found here.

*If you are looking for other resources related to university teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, see my earlier post here.

2020 Pandemic Pedagogy: Selected Resources

[EDIT: Some may also be interested in these resources: 2020 Protest Pedagogy/Black Lives Matter Selected Teaching Resources]

Below is a short list of resources for university teachers and students to help plan the remainder of the 2020 academic year. We got this.

Disclaimer: While many of the resources are helpful for all disciplines, there is a bias towards the humanities in my selections. Additionally, if you are looking for more technical advice about using your school’s LMS or various online platforms, I’d suggest joining the new pedagogy communities forming in places like Facebook (see list at bottom of this post). One more housekeeping note: I’ve recently posted a primer about creating online student discussion forums.

First, the Fun Stuff…

Pandemic Pedagogy Meme [Renea Frey]

The Pandemic Pedagogy Theme Song [Michael Bruening, I Will Survive (Coronavirus Version)]

My Preferred Zoom Background [This Is Fine, KC Green]

Now, On to Business…

Crowdsourced Syllabus Content for COVID-19 and Related Themes

1. Treating Yellow Peril: Resources to Address Coronavirus Racism

“As we continue to track the development of the coronavirus, racial fears and anxieties have become a dominant frame in which people evaluate the concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus infection. This page is intended to gather textual and digital resources to provide easy access to material useful for teach-ins, talking points, and classroom teaching.” 

2. Humanities Coronavirus Syllabus

“To help us think and teach about contagion, global health, and community in a time of social distancing and fear, we are collecting contributions to this crowd-sourced syllabus, which focuses on literary, historical, philosophical/religious, and cultural aspects of current health crisis and its history.”

3. Teaching COVID-19: An Anthropology Syllabus Project

“This developing document is designed to collect and share resources for anthropologists and other social scientists teaching about COVID-19.”

4. Visual Culture of COVID-19 Syllabus

“This is a collection of resources about the visual representation of COVID-19 in the historical context of visualizing contagion.”

5. #coronavirussyllabus | a crowdsourced cross-disciplinary resource

6. Queering the Pandemic Syllabus

“This is a working/crowd-sourced document that originated from the facebook group Queer Ph.D. Network as a resource for those looking for scholarship that provides a queer analysis/response/context to the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic of 2020.”

7. COVID-19 Left Perspectives


Setting Student Expectations and Advice on New Learning Environments

1. Adjusted Syllabus – Brandon Bayne’s principles for his students during his American Religions class

2. The COVID-19 Online Pivot: The Student Perspective – Blog post offering general advice (and links) for students who are studying in a new learning environment

3. Tips for Learning During Disruption – A pragmatically-oriented slide presentation (with speaker notes) for students


Advice for Instructors

1. Please Do a Bad Job of Putting Your Courses Online – By Rebecca Barrett-Fox, this blog post has quickly become the manifesto for fast transitioning to remote teaching [NB: the post is more constructive than the title suggests]

2. Inclusion, Equity, and Access While Teaching Remotely [really important!]

“Remote teaching presents a number of challenges for faculty, including the logistics–both pedagogical and technological–of how to transition course lectures, discussions, and lab or studio learning experiences online. One issue that needs particular attention is that of equitable access to the learning environment.”

3. Videoconferencing Alternatives: How Low-Bandwidth Teaching Will Save Us All [Remember, not all students will have access to reliable internet]

4. Creative Assignment Ideas for Teaching at a Distance [one of my favorite resources here]

“Faculty still need to decide what we will actually do with our students online, asynchronously and at a distance — which is why we developed this list of assignment ideas, which offer ways of rethinking how students might meaningfully engage with course content under these differently mediated circumstances.”

5. National Communication Association: Online Learning Resources

“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more colleges and universities are shuttering their physical campuses and ordering instructional faculty to migrate courses online. NCA’s Teaching & Learning Council has developed this list of online teaching & learning resources; please return for updates and new resources in the days/weeks to come.”

EDIT: Online/Physical Distance Instruction Tips

  1. Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms

2. Can You Teach a ‘Transformative’ Humanities Course Online?

Helpful Facebook Groups

[Everything above was pulled from the groups below; there’s a great group of folks trying to make the best out of this tough scenario]:

  • Pandemic Pedagogy (group set to private, 20k+ members in March)
  • Pandemic Pedagogy (public [different from above], 3k+ members)
  • Teaching in the Time of Corona: Resources (private, 7k+ members)
  • Higher Ed Learning Collective (public, 16k+ members, formerly the Online Learning Collective, formerly the Spring 2020 Online Learning Collective)
  • Online Teaching Tips for the Plague-Averse (public 3k+ members)
  • Humane Humanities (private, 1k+ members, formerly #humanehumanities)
  • Remote Teaching Resources Group (private, 3k+ members)

Lastly, always remember the most important insight gleaned from this experience [New Yorker]

Nine Tips for In-Class Teaching

I once thought that a good university instructor was simply a captivating lecturer. Being a skilled orator is undoubtedly useful for teaching, especially for larger audiences, but I now see it as single tool in any instructor’s toolkit. A good university instructor is someone who has developed a whole repertoire of in-class teaching tools and uses them in the appropriate situation, depending on the instructor’s educational purpose and particular audience.

Below is a list of tips I’ve commonly referenced when working with early-career university instructors. Broadly they represent a move away from

  • Off-Load Heavy Lifting: This is based on a simple principle: those who do all of the conceptual work – the heavy lifting – make all of the mental muscle. Thus, effective teachers will strategically offload the cognitive work to students in a variety of in-class activities (or CATs). For example, have students offer the examples that illustrate the rule, or have them summarize and clarify the main issues, or have them create the links to the readings or other course materials. The key is patience and dialogue; student responses may not always be ideal, but that should be expected in the development of any skill, especially critical cognitive skills. The best way to build those habits of mind and ways of thinking is to have students actively engage with the material.
  • Scaffold and Model Out Loud: Learning a skill is not the same as memorizing a fact. If you are having your students learn a critical skill, such as solving a problem, analyzing a text, interpreting evidence, or creating an argument, it is important to model how that skill is done and attempt to break it down into individual, progressive steps. Mastery is becoming adept at a series of steps which combine into a larger skill, thus being able to articulate these steps clearly to novice students is important. Not only could this be accomplished through listing steps on a slide or writing them on the board or a handout, but also narrating your thought process when a student asks you a question (i.e. not just giving the student an answer); this includes questions you ultimately do not have the answer to.
  • Questions Drive Thinking: Knowing the final answer is often not as important as knowing how one got there. Remember to strategically ask students checking questions after they give their initial response to an inquiry. For example, give students a chance to clarify their own response if it wasn’t optimal, or ask them to justify their response, to explicate their rationale, or ask them to give an example that illustrates their idea. “What exactly do you mean here?” “Why, what’s your evidence or thought process?” “Can you give us an example?” Asking for clarification, justification, and exemplification are all effective checking questions that will allow students to think more deeply about the concepts you want them to learn.
  • Culture Starts on Day One: It is difficult to change a classroom culture halfway into a semester; you need to create a learning environment on the first day of class that will carry through the course. The initial class may be a “low stress” day, but that doesn’t mean careful planning is unnecessary. For example, if you want an active, engaged, and collaborative environment, those classroom expectations should be established on the first day. Thus, be prepared to ask your students probing questions, or have students respond directly to one another in conversation, or to engage in small group work. This will set the tone of how students should expect to interact with you and their peers throughout the semester.
  • Master your Time and Space: Try to make your classroom dynamic. For one, take advantage of your classroom space. If you can arrange seats, consider creating a circle or horseshoe (or double-horseshoe if you have more students) so students can more directly converse with one another. If you cannot move seats, do not hesitate to invite students to all sit in the front of the class, it will create a more intimate teaching environment. Furthermore, consider breaking you class into 15-20 chunks of time, sometimes referred to as “lectorials” or “lecturettes,” where lecture portions are followed by an activity, such as a discussion or group activity. These questions or instructions can be placed directly into your slides, and can help you plan out your overall lecture timing.
  • Rehearse Before Sharing: One of the toughest social aspects of learning is the fear of being wrong or sounding inarticulate in front of your peers. If you are looking for more student engagement, instead of cold-calling individuals, consider ways in which students can rehearse their answers before offering them to the whole class. This could be a simple as having students think and write down their response before sharing. Additionally, students could share their thoughts with a neighbor or small group first (the traditional “think-pair-share” method). You can also “warm-call” students by telling a few individuals you expect to hear from them after their small group conversations. Having the chance to clearly articulate a response or receive feedback can empower students who are less inclined, or simply not fully prepared, to participate.
  • Focus on the Ends: Consider starting and ending a class with an active learning activity or reflection. For example, to help activate the appropriate mental schema, start class with an “entrance ticket” by writing a challenging question on the board or distribute a handout with a passage to read and interpret. Or, have your students re-read their notes and select a concept they found confusing and share it with a small group. Likewise, at the end of class, have student reflect and complete an “exit ticket” or “muddiest point” where they note the most confusing idea of the day. This provides important information that can be revisited during the next class meeting. Active learning activities such as these need only be 5-10 minutes.
  • Learn Names: If the class is small enough try to learn names (30 students is certainly possible) and use them regularly when talking to students. You could practice by taking role verbally as well as personally handing back assignments, both of which can be done while students are working on an activity early in class. Some may prefer to use seating charts or name tents.
  • Teaching is a Skill, Not a Gift: In my experience, early-career instructors are often reluctant to talk with one another about their classroom experiences. This makes sense since we are trained to be researchers and scholars in our disciplines but are not necessarily formally trained or apprenticed in teaching. This means we should start by learning from each other, sharing our ideas for classroom activities, passing around drafts of our handouts or worksheets, thinking about how to build effective grading rubrics, and so forth. Like many things, teaching is a skill, and any skill requires practice, reflection, and an eye towards improvement. Share your successes and failures with your peers, it will benefit all of us.