Ellen Wu

Associate Professor, Department of History

Affilated Faculty, Asian American Studies Program

Affiliated Faculty, Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society

Department of History

IU; IU Bloomington

Full Biography

I research, teach, and write about race, migration, and belonging in United States history. My first book, The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton, 2014), tells of the astonishing makeover of Asians in the United States from the “yellow peril” to “model minorities” in the middle decades of the twentieth century. It charts this transformation within the dual contexts of the United States’ global rise and the black freedom movement. The Color of Success reveals that this far-reaching, politically charged process continues to have profound implications for how Americans understand race, opportunity, and nationhood.

Currrently I am writing Overrepresented, forthcoming from Princeton University Press. This book places Asian Americans at the center of the history of racial justice to tell a new story about diversity, data, and democracy in the United States. Overrepresented deep dives into this surprising history of racial justice to show how Asian Americans became the wild card of US race relations. Their example makes clear that race is neither fixed nor predictable—and that so-called “model minorities” have the willpower to disrupt the status quo of American politics.

As part of the research for Overrepresented, I have dipped my toe into social media analysis. This is possible thanks to the partnerships with School of Informatics masters students Himani Bhatt, Li Isabelle Feng, and Feifan Wu through IU's Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities and Program for Faculty Assistance in Data Science.

Questions of relationships between the foreign and the domestic fuel my work as a teacher. My courses tackle such themes as migration, war in American life, and the United States' Pacific empire and relations to Asia from multiple vantage points.

My work has been featured or cited in a variety of scholarly and public-facing venues, including Modern American History, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, NPR’s Code Switch, Adam Ruins Everything, goop, Marie Claire, the PBS documentary series Asian Americans, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Bloomington's Limestone Post.

Between 2015-2020 I directed IUB's Asian American Studies program. Check out the history of the program in "Past, Present, and Future," a digital exhibit co-curated by Stephanie Nguyen, Zack Hegarty, and me for Indiana University's Bicentennial Celebration.

I have served on the board of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society and the Indiana Advisory Committee for the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Not least, I am interested in everything about food.

Honors and Awards

  • New America National Fellowship, 2021-2022
  • Ford Foundation Senior Fellowship, 2020-2021
  • Indiana University New Frontiers of Creativity and Scholarship Grant, 2018-2019
  • Indiana Minority Business Magazine “Champion of Diversity” Award, 2017
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, 2015-2016
  • Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Diversity-International Outreach Fellowship, 2012
  • Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2010-2011
  • The University of Texas at Austin Institute for Historical Studies Residential Fellowship, 2010-2011

Research Interests

  • 20th/21st Century US History
  • Asian American Studies
  • Race
  • Migration
  • Citizenship


  • B.A., B.S. at Indiana University Bloomington
  • M.A. at University of California, Los Angeles
  • Ph.D. at University of Chicago

Courses Taught

  • Asian American History
  • America's Pacific
  • The United States and China: Crises and Opportunities 
  • Busting the Melting Pot Myth: Migration, Race, and Nation in Modern America
  • America in the 1950s
  • Twentieth Century US History (graduate course)
  • Migration, Nation, Empire (graduate course)


  • The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.
    • Association for Asian American Studies History Book Prize, 2016
    • Immigration and Ethnic History Society, Honorable Mention, Theodore Saloutos Book Award, 2015
    • Immigration and Ethnic History Society, First Book Award, 2015
  • “Overrepresentation: Asian Americans and the Conundrums of Statistical Mirroring,” in Difference Without Domination, eds. Danielle Allen and Rohini Somanathan (University of Chicago Press, 2020).
  • “It’s Time To Center War in U.S. Immigration History,” Modern American History 2, no. 2 (July 2019): 215-235.
  • “GI Joe Nisei: The Invention of World War II’s Iconic Japanese American Soldier,”  in Warring Over Valor, ed. Simon Wendt (Rutgers University Press, 2018).
  • “The Invention of the Model Minority,” in The Routledge Handbook of Asian American Studies, ed. Cindy I-Fen Cheng (Routledge Press, 2016).  
  • With Madeline Y. Hsu. “Smoke and Mirrors: Conditional Inclusion, Model Minorities, and the Pre-1965 Dismantling of Asian Exclusion.” Journal of American Ethnic History 34, no. 4 (Summer 2015): 43-65.
  • “Deghettoizing Chinatown: Race and Space in Postwar America,” in Race and Retail, eds. Mia Bay and Ann Fabian (Rutgers University Press, 2015).
  • “‘America’s Chinese’: Anti-Communism, Citizenship, and Cultural Diplomacy during the Cold War,” Pacific Historical Review 77, no. 3 (August 2008): 391-422.
  • “Chinese American Transnationalism Aboard the ‘Love Boat’: The Overseas Chinese Youth Language Training and Study Tour to the Republic of China,” Chinese America: History and Perspectives (2005): 51-64.
  • With Nakanishi, Don T. Distinguished Asian American Political and Government Leaders. Phoenix, AZ: Greenwood Press, 2002.