Gao, Hongdeng

Field: United States; Advisor: Ngai; Year: 2016

Hongdeng Gao is a historian of race and ethnicity, migration, public health, and social movements in modern America. Her research and teaching focus on Asian American history, urban history, 20th century United States, and the U.S. in the world. 

Her dissertation examines how Cold War geopolitics and cross-ethnic grassroots activism improved access to healthcare for under-served Chinese New Yorkers. Drawing from multi-sited archival research and rare oral history interviews with over 20 Chinese American doctors and community activists, this project is the first in-depth historical study of Chinese American health professionals and patients in the post-World War II period. It integrates Chinese American history into histories of community control movements and health radicalism in Black, Latinx and other communities.The study also illuminates grassroots efforts that reduced barriers to care in Asian American and other marginalized communities. 

Hongdeng's research has been generously supported by dissertation fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and research grants from the Library of Congress, the Rockefeller Archive Center, the Hoover Institution Library & Archives, among others.

Hongdeng is a community-engaged scholar and activist. As a research consultant for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, she used historical research on housing development in the South Bronx to help explain present-day health disparities among African American and Puerto Rican residents. Hongdeng has also solicited and written publicly facing articles on histories of migration, healthcare, and social movements in New York City as a contributing editor for the Gotham Blog. Prior to Columbia, Hongdeng co-founded Health Bridges, a grassroots initiative based in California that trains multilingual college students to serve as health advocates for patients with limited English proficiency. 

First in her family to attend college, Hongdeng graduated summa cum laude from Pomona College with a degree in History and completed a senior thesis, entitled: “Three Upscale Chinese Restaurants during and after the Age of Chinese Exclusion: Lau Yee Chai in Honolulu, the Mandarin in San Francisco, and Port Arthur in New York City, 1897-1991.” Hongdeng is a proud daughter of Chinese immigrants and a former dreamer. 


Review of Timo Schrader, Loisaida as Urban Laboratory: Puerto Rican Community Activism in New YorkGotham Center for New York History Blog, April 31, 2021.

Community Struggles for a New Gouverneur: Tackling the Deeper Roots of the City’s Unequal Hospital Care,” Gotham Center for New York History Blog, January 5, 2021.

“The Mandarin: Acts of Cultural Mapping that Promoted and Marginalized Chinese Food in San Francisco, 1850-1991,” Unfound, no. 2 (Fall 2015, 6-31).