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 Vincent P. DeSantis Book Prize from the Society of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 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, is primarily based on nineteenth-century courtroom testimony. The project examines the legal regulation of Chinese migrants within the United States, that is, how they were criminalized, subjected to an informal color line, and surveilled by overlapping systems of immigration and criminal law. It also explores how Chinese migrants used the American law to their advantage, protecting themselves against violence and crime, both within and outside of their ethnic community. An early example of this research can be seen in the article, “‘Chinamen’ and ‘Delinquent Girls’: Intimacy, Exclusion, and a Search for California’s Color Line,” in The Journal of American History (December 2017).
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.
Her teaching interests include Asian American studies, ethnic studies, migration & borders, gender & sexuality, violence, and the history of the U.S. West.
“‘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.