Mae Ngai

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Mae Ngai
Mae Ngai 2012.jpg
Ngai speaking in 2012
OccupationHistorian; author; professor
Known forImpossible Subjects
AwardsBancroft Prize, 2022
Frederick Jackson Turner Award
Academic background
Alma materEmpire State College (BA)
Columbia University (MA, PhD)
Doctoral advisorEric Foner
Academic work
InstitutionsColumbia University
University of Chicago
Main interestsAmerican history
Mae Ngai
Traditional Chinese

Mae Ngai is an American historian and Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and Professor of History at Columbia University.[1] She focuses on nationalism, citizenship, ethnicity, immigration, and race in 20th-century United States history.

Early life and education[edit]

Ngai is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and describes herself as a student who took a non-traditional route. She took a break from her schooling in 1972 to work as a community activist. After working in the Education and Political Action Department and the Consortium for Worker Education as a researcher and professional labor educator in an environment "where being Chinese and being American existed in tension, but not in contradiction,"[2] Ngai decided to pursue graduate school focusing on immigration studies.[3]

Ngai graduated from Empire State College with a BA and Columbia University with a M.A. in 1993 and Ph.D. in 1998, where she wrote her dissertation under Eric Foner.[4]

Career and research[edit]

After graduation, Ngai obtained postdoctoral fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, the New York University School of Law, and, in 2003, the Radcliffe Institute.[4] She taught at the University of Chicago as an associate professor before returning to Columbia as a full professor in 2006.[5]

Ngai is especially interested in problems of nationalism, citizenship, and race as they are produced historically in law and society, in processes of transnational migration, and in the formation of ethno-racial communities.[6]

In addition to publishing in numerous academic journals, Ngai has written on immigration and related policy for the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and the Boston Review.[5]

Ngai's most notable work was Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, which discusses the creation of the legal category of an "illegal alien" in the early 20th century and its social and historical consequences and context.[2]

Courses taught[1][edit]

  • Immigrants in American History and Life, Lecture
  • Colonization/Decolonization, Undergraduate Seminar
  • Transnational Migration and Citizenship, Graduate & Undergraduate Seminar
  • Historiography for PhD students

Awards and honors[1][edit]

Selected works[edit]

  • "The Strange Career of the Illegal Alien", Law and History Review, Spring 2003, Vol. 21 No. 1
  • "The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law", The Journal of American History, June 1999, Vol. 86 No. 1
  • Ngai, Mae (September–October 2006). "The Lost Immigration Debate". Boston Review.
  • Ngai, Mae M. (May 16, 2006). "How grandma got legal". The Los Angeles Times.
  • Mae M. Ngai (June 14, 2005). "We Need a Deportation Deadline". The Washington Post.
  • Ngai, Mae (2011) "A Slight Knowledge of the Barbarian Language": Chinese Interpreters in Late-Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth-Century America"[9]
  • Ngai, Mae (January 28, 2018). "Immigration Border-Enforcement Myth". NYTimes.
  • Ngai, Mae (March 2015). "Chinese Gold Minders and the "Chinese Question" in Nineteenth-Century California and Victoria"[10]


  1. ^ a b c "Department of History - Columbia University: Ngai, Mae". September 14, 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Ngai, Mae (2004). Impossible Subjects. Princeton University Press.
  3. ^ Costantini, Peter (January 16, 2019). "Reflects on how a century of immigration law created a crisis". Foreign Policy In Focus. Retrieved February 26, 2020.
  4. ^ a b "Current Fellows: Mae M. Ngai". Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Archived from the original on February 22, 2008. Retrieved February 17, 2008.
  5. ^ a b "Mae Ngai". Columbia University Department of History.
  6. ^ "Mae M. Ngai | OAH". Retrieved February 26, 2020.
  7. ^ "The American Academy of Arts and Sciences Inducts Six Columbia Faculty Members". Columbia News. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
  8. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (March 16, 2022). "Histories of Travel Segregation and Chinese Migration Win Bancroft Prize". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 17, 2022.
  9. ^ Ngai, Mae (Winter 2011). ""A Slight Knowledge of the Barbarian Language": Chinese Interpreters in Late-Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth-Century America". Journal of American Ethnic History. 30 (2): 05. doi:10.5406/jamerethnhist.30.2.0005.
  10. ^ Mississippi Valley Historical Association. Organization of American Historians. JSTOR (Organization) (2015). The journal of American history. Mississippi Valley Historical Association. OCLC 984705070.


External links[edit]