Asian American Comparative Collection
The Asian American Comparative Collection (AACC) is a subunit of the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology and part of the Department of Culture, Society and Justice in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Idaho. The AACC was established in 1982 to help archaeologists identify fragments of Asian artifacts by providing whole objects for comparison. Over time, the collection has grown to include a wide variety of comparative objects, as well as bibliographic materials in the form of books, articles and images. This unique, non-profit research facility now serves as a clearinghouse of information available to people researching Asian American topics and identifying Asian American artifacts.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s the University of Idaho became involved in archaeological excavations of Asian American sites, many related to people of Chinese and Japanese ancestry who immigrated to the West during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These archaeological excavations, along with others conducted on a variety of sites in Idaho and elsewhere, recovered everyday objects that were made in China and Japan. The need to understand these artifacts, their uses, and the people who owned them led Priscilla Wegars, Ph.D., to establish, in 1982, the Chinese Comparative Collection (CCC), one of the first celebrations of ethnic and cultural diversity on the University of Idaho campus. As scope of the collection expanded over the years, its name changed two more times, becoming the Asian American Comparative Collection (AACC) in 1994.
Since its founding, the AACC's main objective has been to obtain an actual example, or where that is not possible, a photograph, of every representative object of Asian manufacture that has been, or is likely to be found in an archaeological or museum context in the western United States and elsewhere. The AACC now contains nearly 11,000 artifacts, including a variety of Asian food and beverage containers, table ceramics, medicinal and opium-smoking paraphernalia and other personal and domestic objects.
One significant assemblage includes many examples of Chinese restaurant wares from the Berkeley, California, firm of F. S. Louie & Co. Another growing collection contains examples of past and present anti-Asian racism, stereotypes and propaganda. The AACC also houses the Steven Martin Collection of Opium-Smoking Antiques, donated by Steven Martin before his untimely death in 2015.
The artifacts in the AACC have been acquired through excavation, purchase or donations from interested persons. Bibliographical materials, such as books and articles, have been purchased or donated, and form the nucleus of a reference library emphasizing site reports, artifact identification and historical documentation. Several thousand images are available for study. Unlike museum objects, the AACC artifacts provide a "hands on" approach to understanding Asian American historical archaeology in a time period that encompasses the early 1860s through the mid-1960s.
The mission of the AACC is to support individuals conducting research on Asian American archaeological sites, economic contributions and cultural history. Undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members, employees of government agencies and private firms, museum curators, and public school students have studied the collection to answer a broad range of questions. Researchers have come from many parts of the United States as well as from Canada, Australia, Japan, China and Korea. The collection is also shared with community and educational groups through tours and lectures.
AACC staff are available to answer information requests by email, to give tours and to facilitate on-site research. Requests for information that take one hour or less to fulfill are completely free, as are student research requests. Tours and research appointments are available by appointment. To inquire about any of these options, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The AACC is a 501(c) nonprofit organization (TAX ID: 23-7098404) that is primarily supported through charitable donations. While the University of Idaho's Department of Culture, Society and Justice provides space to house the Collection within the Laboratory of Anthropology, no university or state funding is available to conserve or expand it. Even its curator is a volunteer. Individuals and organizations provide financial assistance for the AACC's operating expenses through monetary or in-kind donations, through subscriptions to the AACC Newsletter, or by purchasing AACC publications, so that we can acquire the artifacts, books, and images that increase the AACC's scope and usefulness.
In honor of the University of Idaho's first 100 years, a group of friends established the AACC Endowment Fund. Income from the fund will eventually support acquisitions, staff wages, translation activities, educational exhibits, research, conservation and publications. The expansion of the AACC is fostered by the generosity of individuals and groups. Your support of the AACC Endowment Fund is needed to encourage the Collection's growth, development, and outreach well into the twenty-first century. Our eventual goal is to have an Endowment of $1,000,000 or more (naming rights, anyone?) so that it will generate enough interest income to fund a part- or full-time curatorial position.
To donate by check, please make payable to "University of Idaho Foundation—Asian American Comparative Collection" and specify either the "AACC Operating Expenses" or "AACC Foundation" in the subject line.
Checks can be mailed to:
University of Idaho Foundation
875 Perimeter Drive, MS 3143
Moscow, ID 83844-3143
Thank you for your support!