Beth Lew-Williams

Director, Program in Asian American Studies
Professor of History
Office Phone
222 Dickinson Hall
Office Hours
Monday: 1:30 pm-3:00 pm
Tuesday: 1:30 pm-3:00 pm

Beth Lew-Williams is a historian of race and migration in the United States, specializing in Asian American history. Her book, The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018), maps the tangled relationships between local racial violence, federal immigration policy, and U.S. imperial ambitions in Asia. During a period better known for the invention of the modern citizenship, the book reveals how violence, exclusion, and imperialism produced a modern concept of alienage in U.S. law and society. The Chinese Must Go won the Ray Allen Billington Prize and the Ellis W. Halley Prize from the Organization of American Historians, the Sally and Ken Owens Prize from the Western History Association, the Vincent P. DeSantis Book Prize from the Society of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, the Caroline Bancroft History Prize, and was a finalist for the Berkshire Conference book prize.

Her next book project, tentatively titled John Doe Chinaman: Race and Law in the American West, considers the regulation of Chinese migrants within the United States during the nineteenth century. Immigration law may have excluded Chinese migrants from the nation for more than fifty years, but those who were already in America (and those who continued to arrive) were also included within the political economy and racial regime of the American West. This book will explore the terms of that inclusion, focusing in particular on the role of civil and criminal law. An early example of this research can be seen in “‘Chinamen’ and ‘Delinquent Girls’: Intimacy, Exclusion, and a Search for California’s Color Line,” which appeared in The Journal of American History (December 2017). The Western History Assoication awarded this article the Ray Allen Billington Prize, the Jensen-Miller Award, and the Vicki L. Ruiz Award.

At Princeton, Lew-Williams is affiliated faculty in the Program in American Studies, the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Asian American/Diaspora Studies. She is also a core member of the Princeton Migration Lab.

Lew-Williams earned her A.B. from Brown University and Ph.D. in history from Stanford University. She has held fellowships from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the George P. Shultz Fellowship in Canadian Studies. She has been in residence at UW-Madison’s Institute for Research in the Humanities and the Institute for Advanced Study. Before coming to Princeton in 2014, she was an ACLS New Faculty Fellow at Northwestern University appointed in History and Asian American Studies.

Teaching Interests

Her teaching interests include Asian American studies, ethnic studies, migration & borders, gender & sexuality, violence, and the history of the U.S. West.

Selected Articles

“‘Chinamen’ and ‘Delinquent Girls’: Intimacy, Exclusion and a Search for California’s Color Line,” Journal of American History (December 2017): 632-655.

“Before Restriction Became Exclusion: America’s Experiment in Diplomatic Immigration Control,” Pacific Historical Review 83, no. 1 (February 2014): 24-56.

Area of Interest
(In alphabetical order)
Asian American
Cultural History
Gender & Sexuality
Immigration & Migration
Political History
Race & Ethnicity
Social History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
19th Century
American West
North America
United States