Atlas Xu, history graduate student

Ph.D., 2021
Immigration History, African American History, Gilded Age and Progressive Era

B.A., World History, Nankai University, China, 2012
M.A., U.S. History, The Catholic University of America, 2017

Click here for curriculum vitae




Dissertation title: “Navigating Worthiness in America: White Attorneys, Black Pensioners, and Chinese Immigrants, 1862-1924”
Director: Dr. Timothy Meagher


I work on race, law, and federal bureaucracy in post-Civil War America. My dissertation compares white attorneys’ work in two strands of negotiations between federal authorities and minority subjects: the distribution of military pension to African Americans, and the restrictions against Chinese coming into the United States. It finds that these lawyers, mostly profit-driven and non-activist, served as vital translators of power, culture and traditions between the US government and its minority subjects. Drawing from government and private collections in America and China, my research argues that an examination of these lawyers’ work effectively historicizes the concept of agency and pushes historians’ inquiry of agency towards unexpected directions.

Originally from China, my interest in the American experience begins with immigration history and grows into an emotional connection with transplanted communities that took roots in the United States. My reading of African American history and experience in Washington, DC, home of generations of African Americans, have inspired me to compare the history of Chinese Americans in late nineteenth century with that of the black Civil War generation. When I am not doing research, my energy is focused on public history projects, movies, social life, hiking, and swimming.


Fellowships and prizes: 
Short-term Research Fellowship, the Huntington Library, 2020-21.
The Arthur J. Quinn Memorial Fellowship, the Bancroft Library at University of California, Berkeley, 2019-20.
The Global South Fellowship, the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, Tulane University, 2019-20.
Dissertation Research Fellowship, the Wilson Library at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2019-20.
Gilder Lehrman Scholarly Fellowship, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 2018-19.
Dissertation Research Fund, The Catholic University of America, 2018.
Excellence in Teaching Award, History Department, The Catholic University of America, 2018.

Conference Papers:
“Surveilling Unworthy "Brokers": Federal Agencies, White Lawyers for the Minorities, and the Search for Racial Management, 1862–1924.” The Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting, 2020 (moved online due to Covid-19).
“Navigating Worthiness at the Golden Gate: Immigration Lawyers, Chinese Immigrants, and Federal Officials in San Francisco, 1882-1910,” paper delivered at the OAH-AHRAC International Conference, “Inheritance and Innovation: An International Symposium on Migration, Ethnicity and the History of U.S. Civilization,” Changchun, China, July 2019.
“Evading the ‘Absurdly Sanguine’: William Bourke Cockran, American Catholicism, and the Cause of Anti-imperialism (1904-1908),” paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of American Catholic Historical Association, Denver, January 2017.