Beth Lew-Williams

Associate Professor of History
Director, Program in Asian American Studies
Office Phone
Dickinson Hall, Room 222
  • Ph.D., Stanford University
  • M.A., Stanford University
  • A.B., Brown University

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 19th century. Immigration law may have excluded Chinese migrants from the nation for more than 50 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 in Asian American/diasporic 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 University of Wisconsin–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.