Nayan Shah

Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity and History
Email nayansha@usc.edu Office KAP 462 Office Phone (213) 740-2426

Research & Practice Areas

(Ph.D, University of Chicago, 1995) Asian American Studies; Gender, LGBT and Queer Studies; 19th and 20th century U.S. and Canadian Western History; Medical and Public Health History, Law, Social Justice and Social

Education

  • Ph.D. History, University of Chicago, 6/1995
  • M.A. History, University of Chicago, 8/1990
  • B.A. History, Economics and Religion, Swarthmore College, 5/1988
    • Visiting Fellow, Humanities Research Institute, University of California Irvine
    • Postdoctoral Fellow, Project on Cities and Urban Knowledges, New York University, 1997-1998
  • Tenure Track Appointments

    • Professor, University of Southern California , 07/2012 –
    • Professor, University of California San Diego , 2012
    • Associate Professor, University of California San Diego, 2000 – 2012
    • Assistant Professor of History, State University of New York Binghamton, 1995 – 2000

    Visiting and Temporary Appointments

    • Freeman Distinguished Visiting Professor, Wesleyan Univerisity,
  • Summary Statement of Research Interests

    Nayan Shah’s research examines historical struggles over bodies, space and the exercise of state power from the mid- 19th to the 21st century.His scholarship advances our understanding of comparative race and ethnic studies, LGBTQ studies, and to the history of migration, public health, law, and incarceration.

    Shah is the author of two award-winning books – Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West (University of California Press, 2011) and Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (University of California Press, 2001).

    Stranger Intimacy uncovers international migrant’s practices of social navigation, community building, and participation in interethnic social worlds that undermine the containment efforts of nation-states and empires. As a way to understand the larger picture, it follows the experiences of South Asian migrants in collaboration with domestic and international migrants and their struggles over social and intimate relations in the United States and Canada from 1900 to the 1940s.

    Contagious Divides examines the problem of citizenship and the governance of modern society through an analysis of public health and Chinese immigration in San Francisco from 1854 to 1952. The portrayal of Chinatown as a nexus of infection, domestic chaos and moral danger reverberated widely in the political and cultural life of San Francisco residents. The book traces how the public health rhetoric of the contagion of Chinatown bachelor society provided white politicians, white middle-class female social reformers, and white male labor leaders the necessary foil against which they were able to elaborate the vision and norms of nuclear family domestic life and a sanitary social order.

    His new book, Refusal to Eat: A Century of Prison Hunger Strikes is the first global history of hunger strikes as a tactic in prisons, conflicts and movements around the world. (University of California Press, forthcoming January 2022). From suffragettes in Britain and the US in the early twentieth century to Irish political prisoners, Bengali prisoners, and detainees at post-9/11 Guantánamo Bay; from Japanese Americans in US internment camps to conscientious objectors in the 1960s; from South Africans fighting apartheid to asylum seekers in Australia and Papua New Guinea, Shah shows the importance of context for each case and the interventions the protesters faced. The power that hunger striking unleashes is volatile, unmooring all previous resolves, certainties, and structures and forcing supporters and opponents alike to respond in new ways. It can upend prison regimens, medical ethics, power hierarchies, governments, and assumptions about gender, race, and the body’s endurance. This book takes hunger strikers seriously as decision-makers in desperate situations, often bound to disagree or fail, and captures the continued frustration of authorities when confronted by prisoners willing to die for their positions. Above all, Refusal to Eat revolves around a core of moral, practical, and political questions that hunger strikers raise, investigating what it takes to resist and oppose state power.

    Shah is at work on two long-term book projects. The first is a comparative study of transnational spiritual migrations, gender and intimacy in the early twentieth century United States that examines Muslim, Catholic and Hindu missions and the development of interracial spiritual communities in Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and Seattle.

    The second examines migration and art-making and examines the ways that Asian, Indigenous and Latin American diasporic artists forge relationships of belonging, refuge and vulnerability with physical landscape and the built environment through art practices of photography, installation, archive and performance.

    Shah is the former co-editor of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (Duke University Press). Shah is the recipient of fellowships and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, NEH, Mellon Foundation, van Humboldt Foundation and Freeman Foundation.

    Detailed Statement of Research Interests

     

    Nayan Shah is a historian with expertise in U.S. and Canadian history, gender and sexuality studies, legal and medical history, and Asian American Studies. He is the author of two award-winning books – Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West (University of California Press, 2011) and Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (University of California Press, 2001).

     Stranger Intimacy uncovers international migrant’s practices of social navigation, community building, and participation in interethnic social worlds that undermine the containment efforts of nation-states and empires. As a way to understand the larger picture, it follows the experiences of South Asian migrants in collaboration with domestic and international migrants and their struggles over social and intimate relations in the United States and Canada from 1900 to the 1940s. 

     Contagious Divides examines the problem of citizenship and the governance of modern society through an analysis of public health and Chinese immigration in San Francisco from 1854 to 1952. The portrayal of Chinatown as a nexus of infection, domestic chaos and moral danger reverberated widely in the political and cultural life of San Francisco residents.  The book traces how the public health rhetoric of the contagion of Chinatown bachelor society provided white politicians, white middle-class female social reformers, and white male labor leaders the necessary foil against which they were able to elaborate the vision and norms of nuclear family domestic life and a sanitary social order.

     Professor Shah’s new research examines prison hunger strikes and transformations in medical ethics and human rights movements across the past thirty years by exploring struggles in apartheid South Africa, refugee asylum and political prisoner protests in the U.S., Europe, India and Australia.  

     A second large-scale research project is a comparative study of  transnational spiritual migrations, gender and intimacy in the early twentieth century United States that examines Muslim, Catholic and Hindu missions and the development of interracial spiritual communities in Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and Seattle.

     Shah served as co-editor (with Elizabeth Freeman of UC DAvis) of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (Duke University Press) from 2011-2104. Shah is the recipient of fellowships and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, van Humboldt Foundation and Freeman Foundation.

     Shah advises graduate students in fields of Asian American Studies, Sexuality and Gender Studies, Studies of Health and Inequality, and 19th and 20th century politics, governance and social transformation.  His advisees hold a variety of academic and administrative positions in universities and scholarly institutions, including the University of Massachussetts, Boston; Library of Congress; University of Wisconsin Madison, Miami University, Smith College, California State University Fullerton, San Diego Mesa College, Rutgers University, Tulane University and University of California Riverside. His postdoctoral fellow advisees are Assistant Professors at University of California San Diego and Pitzer College.

  • Book

    • Shah, N. (2022). Refusal to Eat: A Century of Prison Hunger Strikes. University of California Press.
    • Shah, N. (2011). Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West. Berkeley: University of California Press.
    • Shah, N. (2001). Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Berkeley: University of California Press.
    • Shah, N. (1998). “Sexuality, Identity and the Uses of History”. New York: Routledge.

    Book Chapter

    • Shah, N. (2020). “The Sensual Labor of Claiming Place”. California Dreaming: Production Aesthetics in Asia Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
    • Shah, N. (2018). “Feeding Hunger Striking Prisoners: Biopolitics and Impossible Citizenship”. Biocitizenship: Lively Subjects, Embodied Action, New York: New York University Press.
    • Shah, N. (2018). “Queer of Color Estrangement and Belonging”. History of Queer America New York: Routledge.
    • Shah, N. (2016). “Empire of Medical Investigation on Angel Island, California. Quarantine: Local and Global Histories pp. 103-128. London: Palgrave MacMillian.
    • Shah, N. (2014). “Feeling for the Protest Faster: How the Self-Starving Body Influences Social Movements and Global Medical Ethics”. Science and Emotions after 1945 Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    • Shah, N. (2013). “Intimate Dependency, Race and Trans-Imperial Migration”. The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants New York: New York University Press.
    • Shah, N. (2006). “Contested Intimacies: Adjudicating ‘Hindu Marriage’ in U.S. Frontiers”. pp. pp. 116-139. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
    • Shah, N. (1999). “Cleansing Motherhood: Hygiene and the Culture of Domesticity in San Francisco’s ‘Chinatown,’ 1875-1939”. Gender, Sexuality and Colonial Modernities London: Routledge.

    Essay

    • Shah, N. (2002). “Undertow”. Like Mangoes in July: The Work of Richard Fung Toronto: Images Festival of Independent Film and Video,.

    Journal Article

    • Shah, N. (2020). “Lifeways of Intimacy Under Duress”. 1 Amerasia Journal. Vol. 46 (1),
    • Shah, N. (2019). Putting One’s Body on The Line. 1 Durham, NC: GLQ: Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies. Vol. 25 (1),
    • Shah, N. (2014). “Race-ing Sex”. 3 pp. 26-36.Frontiers: Journal of Women’s Studies. Vol. 34 (3),
    • Shah, N. (2005). “Policing Privacy, Migrants and the Limits of Freedom”. 84-85 pp. pp. 275-284. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
    • Shah, N. (2005). “Between Oriental Depravity” and Natural Degenerates”: Spatial Borderlands and the Making of Ordinary Americans”. Durham, North Carolina: American Quarterly.
    • Shah, N. (2000). “Opaque Desires”. 2 FELIX: A Journal of Media Arts and Communication. Vol. 2 (2),
    • Shah, N. (1996). ” ‘White Label’ et ‘peril jaune’: Race, Genre et Travail a San Francisco au XIXe siecle et au debut du Xxe siecle”. 3 pp. 95-115. Paris: Clio: Histoire, Femmes et Societies.
    • American Historical Association Pacific Branch Norris and Carol Hundley Award for Most Distinguished Book on any historical subject , 2012-2013
    • Alexander van Humboldt Humanities Connection Grant, 2010/06-2010/08
    • Freeman Foundation Distinguished Scholar Award, Fall 2006
    • University of California Humanities Research Institute Research Group Fellowship Award, Spring 2006
    • Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship, 2002-2003
    • Association of Asian American Studies History Book Prize , Spring 2003
    • University of California Humanities Research Institute Fellowship, Fall 1998
    • Mellon Fellowship, 1994-1995
    • Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, 1988-1989
  • Administrative Appointments

    • Chair, 08/16/2016-08/15/2018
    • Chair, 08/16/2012-08/15/2015
  • Editorships and Editorial Boards

    • Editor, GLQ: Journal Of Lesbian and Gay Studies”, 07/01/2011 – 07/01/2014

    Professional Offices

    • Executive Committee, American Studies Association”, 2009-2013
    • National Council Elected Member, American Studies Association”, 2009-2013