Blog Archive of English 265Honors, Fall 2011.
This blog was originally a project born from the creative minds of the students in Dr. Heidi Kim’s English 265 Honors course Literature and Race, Literature and Ethnicity at UNC-Chapel Hill. Currently, it is also serving as a home for all the exciting work being done on the Bunker archives at UNC, including the performance of Philip Kan Gotanda’s play The Lives of Chang and Eng in November 2012.
English 265′s original blog description:
Throughout the semester, we will evaluate a variety of works which focus on the retelling of minority histories that are not recorded by mainstream, institutional histories. The discovery and understanding of one such minority history is the focus of this blog.
Each week, we will emphasize varying aspects of the lives of Chang and Eng Bunker, the original “Siamese twins”. Along with featuring interesting discoveries from our research at the Bunker archive in the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, we plan to offer insights about the lives of Chang and Eng and their portrayal throughout history. This investigation is part of a joint project to assist renowned playwright Philip Kan Gotanda with his most recent play, I Dream of Chang and Eng. Through our exploration, we hope to gain a first-hand understanding of how authors approach and balance the retelling of an authentic past through an imagined story.
Be sure to visit our blog often! Look for weekly updates about the developments from our class. Throughout the semester, we will highlight the progress of our class’s work with our culminating project: a public presentation about Chang and Eng Bunker at Wilson Library on Tuesday, December 6 at 5pm.
Note: This blog was primarily authored by four students, with occasional additions from others in the class. As a blog, it was not edited or attributed in the way that a scholarly or research paper would be. Video and photo were all shot by students in the class.
UNC announces new donations from the descendants of the Bunker twins!
June 11, 2012
Photo credits to Zach Greenwald
— Lily RobertsNovember 30, 2011
12:25 Start heading to class in Greenlaw.
12:28 Realize that we’re rehearsing today and run to Wilson Library.
12:33 Find the rest of the class looking at you and wondering why you’re slow after wandering the first floor of Wilson for a few minutes.
12:40 Fumble for books, papers, and script, all conveniently located in completely different parts of your backpack or with one of your partners.
12:47 Run-through begins. Pretend that your document is up on the screen as you describe its connection to the Chang and Eng story and the play.
12:50 Do the awkward read-from-laptop with one hand and make appropriate declamatory guestures with the other.
12:52 Realize that sitting and standing like whack-a-moles when doing dramatic reading looks ridiculous. Watch Professor Kim almost fall over from laughing. Decide that standing during the whole reading would probably be better for everyone’s health.
12:53 Continue pretending that your document is up on the projector screen, which is now rotated sideways (just for fun.)
1:05 Discuss the merits of dramatic entrances and exits from behind the projector screen versus sitting/standing on the front step of the stage. Watch certain unnamed classmates make shadow puppets behind said screen.
1:12 Try out 4!/(4-2)! different ways (permutations, for all you non-English majors out there) of doing the lighting.
1:20 Discuss THE question of the century: what are you going to wear? Business casual, black for dramatic readers, possibly berets. Team Chang and Team Eng buttons optional.
1:29 Vote to have dramatic readers stand on the first step. Fumble for books, papers, and script again as you meet in small groups to finalize details. The room crackles with energy and enthusiasm that will hopefully fill the space again in just one week…
-Hetali LodayaNovember 30, 2011
After a full rehearsal of our final events today, our class is ready to share our final event with the public next Tuesday at 5!
Along with a reception and exhibition viewing, we are very excited to be able to share our research from the Wilson Library archive and present the reading of selected scenes from Philip Kan Gotanda’s play I Dream of Chang and Eng.
Here’s a look at the Order of Events for next Tuesday.
Welcome and Introductions
Professor Heidi Kim
Biography of Chang and Eng
The Business Life
Presented by Mary Cooper
Original Contract (NC State Archive) and Account Book (Wilson Archive)
Scene Reading from I Dream of Chang and Eng
The Farewell Tour
Presented by Mike French
2 Families and 21 children on a NC farm
Photos and Letters of the Bunkers from Wilson Archive
Scene Reading from I Dream of Chang and Eng
The King and 2-Headed Monster
The Mystical and Unknown
Presented by Lacy Schmidt
A Mysterious Chinese hammer from Wilson Archive
Scene Reading from I Dream of Chang and Eng
Meeting Family Yates
Presented by Sravya Durbha
Integration into American Society
Discussion with Philip Kan Gotanda, playwright of I Dream of Chang and Eng
November 29, 2011
As our class prepares for our public presentation, a logical question arises: how does our experience entertaining an audience relate to Chang and Eng’s? The twins spent most of their lives appearing before an interested audience. Despite the different natures of the exhibitions, and different motives, more parallels exist than one might think.
Though the twins did of course tour with Barnum, we must not picture them solely in a freak show exhibit or circus of today (Indeed, they appeared in a traditional circus ring once, late in their life, and were very uncomfortable with the experience). When the twins took over their own affairs, they could choose where they would appear, and in what venue. Contrary to what people today might expect, in many places, Chang and Eng simply received visitors in their rooms. This would have afforded the general public a close view and communication with the twins. This isn’t to say the twins didn’t market themselves as curiosities–being business savvy, they played up their foreign nature in advertisements they wrote. But personal meetings are nonetheless a far cry from what we might expect of Barnum’s exhibitions.
When the Bunker twins lived in North Carolina, they continued to tour until very late in their life, and appeared at agricultural fairs around the US. At these fairs, the twins would appear not only as spectacles, but as farmers. At these fairs, they would answer questions from the audience, which could relate both to their own lives and to the concerns of running large farms. These tours bear perhaps the closest resemblance to our end-of-year event. Presumably, people who attended these discussions with Chang and Eng came to the realization that the twins were not merely curiosities on the stage, but functional people and successful businessmen. As with our event, at the agricultural fairs, people came to be informed as well as entertained.
Then, too, our final presentation will spring from the same thing that brought visitors flocking to Chang and Eng’s rooms over 150 years ago: fascination with the unique. The twins’ extraordinary existence captivated audiences then, and that captivation still exists today.
–Claire KorzenNovember 21, 2011
Without the support from so many groups from UNC-Chapel Hill, we would not be able to plan or create such a dynamic public presentation for the community on December 6th. Thanks to all of our sponsors!
Friends of Wilson Library
Gifts from the friends of the library ensure that collections are enhanced and services may expand for students, faculty and users from around the world.
ENG 265H is one of over 100 honors courses offered each year at UNC. Honors Carolina is the University’s way of investing in truly exceptional undergraduate students — providing a remarkable collection of challenges and opportunities inside and outside the classroom. Our final event is the perfect example of just one of the amazing opportunities that Honors Carolina provides.
The Institute for the Arts and Humanities
The Institute for the Arts and Humanities offers programs and activities that support UNC faculty at every stage of their careers. The IAH funds individual and collaborative research, showcases faculty work, develops faculty leaders and teachers, and facilitates the formation of collaborative, interdisciplinary communities that promote intellectual exchange
The Diversity Office
The vision of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs is to build and sustain an inclusive campus community and to foster a welcoming climate that values and respects all members of the University community. The mission of the Office affirms the University’s commitment to diversity as a critical element of academic excellence.
Performing Arts Special Activities Fund of the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost
The PASAF supports projects and activities that provide quality performing arts and cultural programming that enhances the creative and cultural environment of the University community.
The Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library
The Southern Historical Collection (SHC) is a vast collection of distinct archival collections. These collections are comprised of unique primary documents, such as diaries, journals, letters, correspondence, photographs, maps, drawings, ledgers, oral histories, moving images, albums, scrapbooks, and literary manuscripts.
The North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library
The North Carolina Collection preserves an incomparable assemblage of literary, visual, and artifactual materials illustrating four centuries of the colony and state of North Carolina.
-Lauren KryderNovember 16, 2011
To fully understand Mr. Gotanda’s motivations for writing this play and to give context to his replies to the interview questions below, it helps to have some background on his life. Born and raised in California, he graduated from UC-Santa Barbara and attending Hastings College of Law. It was while practicing law that he wrote his first play, The Avocado Kid. Gotanda is known for his balanced, sensitive portrayals of Asians and Asian-Americans in a media that tends to stereotype them beyond all recognition. This outlook is reflected in both his plays and films.
He is recognized as a breakout Asian-American playwright and filmmaker, mostly because embraces that role and often writes from personal experience or understanding. He serves as a role model for many up-and-coming artists, and continues to experiment – his style varies from work to work. Everything from his father’s childhood in Hawaii to his own time spent in Japan learning traditional pottery techniques infuses his work with tangible, real experience. I Dream of Chang and Eng is a technically difficult and historically fascinating work, adding to Gotanda’s already impressive repertoire.
-Hetali LodayaNovember 12, 2011
How did you initially learn about Chang and Eng?
It’s been so long ago it’s hard to remember. I did start this play some 25 years ago but to be honest, I don’t remember the exact moment that I first heard of them. I do recall that early on I would hear the expressions, ‘Siamese Twins’ in reference to conjoined babies. And a vague memory of that classic picture of them as old men floating around in my childhood ethos.
Was there a particular element of their stories that intrigued you?
Several things intrigued me about Chang and Eng’s story. One was their characters. The fact that they were willful, independent with a strong prideful sense of who they were. That they were temperamental, prone to outbursts of anger and volatility when they felt they were being disrespected or their honor impugned. This got my notice right off. For some reason I got a kick out of that aspect of their characters. This was new. This was different. Let alone they were conjoined and what was to become their family life. The other aspect was that family life. That they became successful gentlemen farmers, in the Antebellum Era, married the Yates Sisters and begat so many children. To explain the actual mechanics of that was a theatrical challenge that piqued me. Through all of this that they were Asians. Bi-racial or bi-cultural being ethnic Chinese in Siam. Finally settling in the American south. Asian Americans. The first high-profile super star Asian Americans.
How do you know when you’ve encountered material that you want to explore in a play?
It varies. Usually it’s a combination of elements that I’ve taken notice of that come together in my head over a period of time. A moment in history, a political and/or social event, an anecdote, a familial story, a dream – any number of things. They stick in my mind and then seem to grow themselves inside of my body. Literally coupling up with other ideas and making a narrative. Then at some point, it begins to bleed out into my consciousness. I have a play, AFTER THE WAR. It was history – During World War II when Japanese Americans were forcibly removed and incarcerated, it created big vacuums in J-Town neighborhoods. In SF, African Americans in the neighboring Western Addition/Fillmore District moved in, bringing with it a vibrant Jazz and blues scene. So when the war ended and Japanese Americans returned from the Internment Camps, they found their Japantown occupied by this new cultural mix. There ensued a few years in which you had these two groups, Japanese Americans and African Americans, intersecting in this one neighborhood, both calling it home, both claiming it as theirs, both trying to establish their place in this post-World War II America. Then there was the cultural subject of American Jazz shifting from Swing to Bebop, and, the story of Nisei jazz musicians before and during World War II. Jazz was segregated before the War so the Japanese American musicians ended up playing with the Black musicians. Chet, a No-No Boy (this interested me) who had been imprisoned for refusing to serve in the military, returns home at the end of the War to take over the family Boarding House in Japantown. Its occupants are mostly Nisei and African Americans. Chet is getting pressure to kick out the Blacks from a section of the Japanese American community and make it all Japanese American again. Chet is resistant as he feels a kinship to the African American tenants having played in black jazz groups and lived with them. The conflict. It was a combination of these historical and cultural elements of which I had interest that came together to become AFTER THE WAR.
Was there any scene or element of Chang and Eng’s lives that you immediately knew you wanted to include in the play?
Two scenes. The first was to show Chang and Eng getting into a fight. And the other was to show theatrically Chang and Eng and their wives making love.
Is there any scene or element of Chang and Eng’s lives that you wish you could have included or explored further?
Yes. The fact that Chang and Eng were slave owners. I touch upon it briefly however it was simply too complicated an issue to fully explore in this play.
— Lily RobertsNovember 11, 2011
The American circus was a primary form of entertainment in the nineteenth century. Beneath the surface of its excitement and extravagance, the circus was a used as a vehicle to promote the study natural history P.T. Barnum, an American businessman and showman, brought special attention to the “scientific and commercial aspects of natural history” (Betts 353). As co-founder of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Barnum recognized society’s obsession with natural anomalies, and employed eye-catching wonders such as the “Siamese Twins”, Chang and Eng Bunker.
Chang and Eng Bunker toured with Barnum until their retirement in 1839, receiving notable fame and fortune. The original “Siamese Twins”, however, were not the only performers employed by Barnum used to capture society’s fascination. There were others who, despite being called “freaks”, found success in the circus business (Betts 355). In fact, many performers were praised for their unique talents and intelligence.
Although most performers stayed with a single circus for no more than two years at a time, the performers often united in their differences, establishing exclusive families and friendships within the circus population. Popular performers included, Eli Bowen “The Legless Wonder”, Annie Jones “The Bearded Lady”, Issac W. Spraque “The Living Skeleton, and many more. The performers’ popularity and grandeur suggest that such physical deformities were more valued and accepted then, than those like them today.
-Zachary GreenwaldNovember 10, 2011
Our class wasn’t limited in our choices of Primary Documents. We could choose from any document in the Wilson Library Special Collection, or from Chang and Eng related documents in the State Archives of Raleigh. As such, our primary document research reveals not only information about the Bunkers, but also what areas we students found the most fascinating.
Since Chang and Eng Bunker lived a large portion of their lives in the public spotlight, for the most part, archive materials fell under one of two categories: public depictions of the Bunkers, and documents from their personal lives. This helped us narrow down our selection process quickly. Some of us were more interested in Chang and Eng’s everyday lives, and some of us looked into the media of the 1800s.
Some people looked into the media’s objectivity, or lack thereof. Lindsay Miller chose a newspaper article that both exaggerated the Bunkers’ lives and outright lied. “I chose it because the assertions were totally ridiculous, and the idea of the distorted perspective of the twins in the media was really interesting to me,” she said. Hetali Lodaya chose a medical text, published after the Bunker’s death, because she was curious if people ever achieved an unbiased perspective on the twins. For some of their lives, Chang and Eng themselves had a say in how they were portrayed, and Erin Wallace chose a promotional poster the twins themselves designed. Along with the inherent interest of seeing an ad from the 1800s, she noted the quality of the Bunkers’ self-promotion.
On the other end of the spectrum, we had members of the class who focused on the Bunkers’ family life. Joey Weissburg chose a letter from Chang and Eng to their families, which allowed him to compare Chang and Eng as two separate people. Liz Willis and I both chose letters from Catherine Bunker to her father, Eng Bunker. Liz wrote that she wanted to learn about what went on at the Bunkers’ farms during their travels, and I was interested in seeing the perspective of someone who thought of Eng primarily as a father, not as an attraction.
Of course, several artifacts in Wilson Library did not fall into one of these two categories. Lacy Schmidt chose a small ceremonial hammer in Wilson Library whose description was very sparse, in hopes that her research would be useful in identifying and describing the item.
(Thank you to all the students who contributed their reasons for research!)November 6, 2011
As part of our investigation into the lives of Chang and Eng Bunker, each member of Professor Kim’s ENG 265H class researched a primary document or article from the Bunker archives at Wilson Library. Last week, our class spent the afternoon listening to each other explain the the significance of these historical items in the lives of Chang and Eng.
Several of these archival items will be on display during our Final Event presentation on December 6th at 5pm in Wilson Library. Below you will find just a few of the items that our class discovered, along with a short analysis of their historical significance in the lives of Chang and Eng Bunker.
Chang and Eng’s first contract was signed on April 1st, 1829 in Bangkok. The twins had yet to claim the surname Bunker, and the[Winston Salem Journal’s August 6, 1977 “Chang-Eng Pact Acquired”] article states they are approximately 18 years old at the time of this signing. The contract itself is composed in the 1st person from Chang and Eng’s perspective, yet it is written in an English cursive script by English trader Robert Hunter. At this time, Chang and Eng were not yet able to understand English. Chang and Eng sign the contract in the Siam language, and a series of Siamese letters appears to the immediate left of their signatures.
Thanks to Jimmy Fulcher for providing us with this information.
Though Chang and Eng Bunker were legally American citizens, they also had to be accepted into their North Carolinian community, where they retired. In order to fit in, Chang and Eng not only “became, like their neighbors, inveterate smokers and chewers of tobacco,” but also were regular attendees to church and religious services and owners of slaves.
Thanks to Laura Zhou for this contribution.
On the morning of July 19th, 1831, Boston, Massachusetts newspaper, “American Traveller” published a brief, paragraph-long advertisement for a Chang and Eng Bunker exhibition. Chang and Eng were only first featured in America, as part of a world tour, two years prior to this date.
The advertisement illustrates Chang and Eng’s fleeting popularity and grandeur. It also exemplifies the public’s enthrallment over Chang and Eng’s physical condition, as evidenced by the author’s use of extravagant phrases such as “wonderful phenomenon”, and the deliberate choice to italicize the word “singular”.
Thanks to Zachary Greenwald for this contribution.
Thompson, Roy. “Chang-Eng Pact Acquired”. Winston-Salem Journal. August 6, 1977.
Daniels, Jonathan “Never Alone At Last: The Strange Double-Life of the Siamese Tar Heels.” The Raleigh News and Observer 28 Oct 1962. Print. UNC-CH Wilson Library Archives: Collection 03761, Series 1, Folder 9.
November 1, 2011
Conjoined twins have captured the public’s interest throughout history, signifying good or bad omens, religious significant, or simple curiosity to different cultures.
Peru’s ancient Moche civilization depicted conjoined twins in pottery as early as the year 300. Central American civilizations depicted conjoined twins in paintings and figurines, most with proportions too accurate to have been depictions of imagined “monsters.”
In 942, the earliest documented conjoined twins traveled from Armenia to Constantinople for medical treatment; it is unknown whether they were successfully separated.
The ” Biddenden Maids” were Eliza and Mary Chulkhust, supposedly conjoined twins born in England around 1100. Their images have been printed on cakes given to the poor in Biddenden, England for the past few centuries, but historians have concluded that the actual sisters were mythical. However, their images are still popular.
By the 19th Century (the era of Chang and Eng), conjoined twin were a curiosity and form of entertainment. Millie and Christine McCoy were born into slavery in North Carolina in 1851. They were sold to a showman who taught them to sing and dubbed them the “Two-Headed Nightingale,” and they traveled with the Barnum Circus until their deaths in 1912.
— Lily Roberts
October 29, 2011
As this article from the May 15th News and Observer makes clear, the story of Chang and Eng will never really go away. Many accounts about the twins, both before and after their deaths, stress their incredible unity and desire to be together, even when they were fighting or at odds.
But what if they were just born at the right time? Given the small amount of tissue and organ matter that the twins actually shared, if born even a hundred years later they would have been easily separated. Most conjoined twins born in modern times can be separated. Depending on the point of separation, there are often complications. If they are joined at the head, for example, or if they share vital organs, often only one twin will survive.
Technical limitations aside, there are also ethical and religious considerations regarding separation. Some argue that the quality of life for twins is actually better together than separate, with Lori and George Schappell as an oft-cited example. Others bring up religious concerns -that it is “against God’s will” to change the way that children are born.
It is difficult to say for sure, then what would have happened to Chang and Eng had they been born in modern times. Technically, they probably could have been separated – but the voices of their parents and the community would have weighed heavily into that decision. It is a thread of history we may never be able to explore.
-Hetali LodayaOctober 24, 2011
On September 6, ENGL 265H took a field trip to the North Carolina Collection in Wilson Library, home to Chang and Eng’s papers. Below are photographs taken of archival materials and exhibits, courtesy of Zach Greenwald. – Lily Roberts
The interpretation of history can be a tricky task. Authors who use history in their literature draw upon their understanding of the past in order to portray a convincing story to readers. Being able to accurately use history is crucial for remembering and is also enables individuals to gain an appreciation for the past. For example, this week our class listened to a presentation by Ms. Joanne Iritani from The Time of Remembrance Program. Ms. Iritani shared her personal experiences about the Japanese American incarceration during WWII. She recounted what life was like in the camps for her and her family and showed us original pictures of the conditions in the camps including things like stall-less toilets, cramped housing with little furniture, and the massive mess halls which served 3 meals a day. In sharing her first-hand account along with images of the camps, she creates a credible resource that allows others to gain a unique perspective about an event in the past and also reinforces an authentic understanding of it.
In order to present the past, access to veritable information is critical. Chang and Eng Bunker have been the focus of several books, television series, and even a musical (If you’re interested, see the archives in Wilson Library to access any of these materials). How has their story been passed down through the years, and how do we know if any of these portrayals are accurate? The answer lies in the examination of primary documents and artifacts from the period of the period in which they lived. The novelty of 2 conjoined humans that lived in the 1800’s understandably generated tons of interest and attention. This has subsequently led to the compilation of a number of materials from their lives that remain in archives and private collections today. A small collection of primary source material from the special collections in Wilson Library can be seen here. Using pieces of history like those found in the Bunker archive is essential as authors and curious minds alike attempt to investigate and understand the past more thoroughly.
-Lauren KryderOctober 1, 2011
Our popular understanding of American citizenship is a recent one, created by an era of relatively simple international travel and based on an idealized image of the incorporation of new immigrants into the American “melting pot.” But in reality, the history of the American citizenship process — the process most indicative of which people living on American soil were actually considered “American” — is one that belies fear of racial, ethnic, and religious differences, gives power to the state to judge those worthy of remaining in the country (and deporting those who aren’t), and demonstrates an evolving conception of individual rights and equality.
Remarkably, Chang and Eng became naturalized citizens in 1839, during a brief period before high numbers of Asian immigrants led to reactionary restrictions on immigration and citizenship. Below is a brief history of American citizenship in the 19th century, indicating Chang and Eng’s roles as notable exceptions in the American story, demonstrating the importance of legal equality and inclusion.
1795: The first American Naturalization Act restricts citizenship to “free white persons,” who must reside in the U.S. for five years and renounce their former country.
1789: The Alien and Sedition Acts allow the government to deport any foreigner deemed dangerous.
1808: Legal importation of slaves to the U.S. ends.
1839: Chang and Eng Bunker become naturalized citizens
1840s: European revolutions, crop failure in Germany, and the Irish Potato Famine cause significantly increased European immigration.
1849: The beginning of the California Gold Rush spurs increased immigration from China.
1854: Chinese immigrants are prohibited from testifying against whites in California courts.
1868: The Fourteenth Amendment overrules Dred Scott and states that all those born in the U.S. or naturalized are granted citizenship, which cannot be abridged by the states.
1870: The Naturalization Act of 1870 limits citizenship to “white persons and persons of African descent.”‘
1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act limits Chinese immigration.
1885: The Alien Contract Labor Law bars companies from bringing foreigners into the country to be laborers, except those intended for domestic or skilled work that cannot be filled by Americans.
1892: Ellis Island opens. It will process over twelve million immigrants over the next thirty years.
Timeline source: Heater, Derek Benjamin. A Brief History of Citizenship. New York: New York University Press, 2004.
– Lily RobertsSeptember 23, 2011
Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins, toured the world with P.T. Barnum’s circus and went on to settle in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. For years they have been a subject of fascination, debate, and discussion. Understandably – there’s a lot to discuss.
Welcome to the English 265 Honors class at UNC-Chapel Hill, and our attempt to continue that discussion. Through primary document analysis, historical research and personal interpretation, and in support of playwright Phillip Kan Gotanda’s upcoming play chronicling their lives, we will explore every facet of what makes the Chang and Eng legend.
Keep up with myself, Lily Roberts, Claire Korzen, Lauren Kryder and other members of our class as we post video, pictures, stories, and research on our path to a public presentation at the end of the semester. If you’d like to see something in particular or start a discussion, feel free to leave a comment!
As the quote above from Gotanda’s manuscript suggests, we are all probably more connected to Chang and Eng’s story than we realize. Over the next couple months, we’ll see just how our stories intersect.
-Hetali LodayaSeptember 20, 2011