Distinguished Lecturers
Beth Lew-Williams

Beth Lew-Williams

Beth Lew-Williams is Associate Professor of History at Princeton University. She 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 (2018), won the Ray Allen Billington Prize and the Ellis W. Halley Prize from OAH. With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, her next book project, “John Doe Chinaman:” Race and Law in the American West, will consider the policing of Chinese migrants in the American West.

OAH Lectures by Beth Lew-Williams

Lew-William's talk comes from her ongoing book project, tentatively titled John Doe Chinaman: Race and Law in the American West, which 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.

In the 19th-century American West, sexual commerce was common within the Chinese community, so common that it directly or indirectly shaped the lives of all female Chinese migrants. As a result, Chinese women and girls led deeply restricted lives. Traffickers sought to control and contain Chinese women, but so too did local law enforcement, immigration officials, missionaries, and husbands. By studying Chinese female runaways—and asking what they wished to escape, how they fled, and where they sought refuge—this talk will consider the intertwining forces that conditioned Chinese women's lives.

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