Mae Ngai

Mae Ngai

Research Interest

ON LEAVE (Spring 2021)


Ph.D. — Columbia University, 1998 (with distinction)
M.A. — Columbia University, 1993
B.A. — SUNY Empire State, 1992

Interests and Research

Mae M. Ngai, Professor of History and Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies, is a U.S. legal and political historian interested in questions of immigration, citizenship, and nationalism. She is the author of the award-winning Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (2004) and The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America (2010).  Ngai has written on immigration history and policy for the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and the Boston Review. Before becoming a historian she was a labor-union organizer and educator in New York City, working for District 65-UAW and the Consortium for Worker Education.  She is now working on The Chinese Question (under contract with WW Norton), a study of Chinese gold miners and racial politics in nineteenth-century California, the Australian colony of Victoria, and the South African Transvaal.


Undergraduate Courses

  • Immigrants in American History and Life (lecture)
  • Transnational migration and citizenship (seminar) 
  • Senior thesis seminar
  • Colonization/Decolonization

Graduate Courses

  • U.S. Historiography
  • National Identity and Citizenship in U.S. History
  • Readings in 20-century U.S. History
  • Transnational Migration and Citizenship in US and Europe


Fellowships and Grants

  • Shelby Collum Davis for Historical Studies, Princeton University (Spring 2018)
  • Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the North, Library of Congress (Fall 2017)
  • Huntington Library (Spring 2017)
  • Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2013)
  • OAH-AHRAC China Residency Program (2013)
  • Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange (2012)
  • Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, New York Public Library (2012)
  • Institute for Advanced Study (2009)
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2009)
  • Huntington Library (2006)
  • Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard (2003)
  • NYU Law School (2000)
  • Social Science Research Council (1999)


  • Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, Columbia
  • Editorial Board, International Labor and Working Class History
  • Editorial Board, Journal of American Ethnic History



Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton 2004). Winner of six book awards including Frederick Jackson Turner prize (OAH), Littleton Griswold prize (AHA), Lora Romero prize (ASA), Theodore Salutos prize (Immigration and Ethnic History Society).

The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010; paperback edition, Princeton University Press, 2012; in Chinese translation (幸運寵兒) from Commercial Press, Beijing (2015) and University Press of National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei (2014).

Editor (with Jon Gjerde), Major Problems in American Immigration History, second ed. (Cengage 2011).

Recent Articles and Opinions

“The Dark History of Defining ‘Family’,” NY Times July 19, 2017.

"Trouble on the Rand: The Chinese Question in South Africa and the Apogee of White Settlerism,” International Labor and Working Class History 91 (Spring 2017).

Why Muslims are the New Chinese, CNN Jan. 30, 2017. 

"Chinese Gold Miners and the 'Chinese Question' in Nineteenth-Century California and Victoria," inOxford Journals, Journal of American History, (2015).

“Second-class Non-citizens,” New York Times, Jan. 31, 2014. 

“Immigration Reform for Good,” New York Times, Jan. 30, 2013.

“The True Story of Ah Jake: Language, Labor and Justice in Late-Nineteenth-Century Sierra County, California,” in Cultures in Motion, ed. D. Rodgers, B. Raman and H. Reimitz (Princeton University Press 2013).