Doug Coulson
Assistant Professor, Department of English
Carnegie Mellon University

Research Interests

My research focuses on legal rhetoric and argumentation, particularly the relationship of legal discourse to cultural identity. More broadly, I’m interested in the history and theory of rhetoric, the role of narrative, memory, and proof in discourse about the past, and the comparative study of conflict and its resolution.  

Current Research

My book Race, Nation, and Refuge: The Rhetoric of Race in Asian American Citizenship Cases explores the role of rhetoric and the racial classification of Asian American immigrants in the early twentieth century. From 1870 to 1940, racial eligibility for naturalization in the United States was limited to “free white persons” and “aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent,” and many interpreted these restrictions to reflect a policy of Asian exclusion based on the conclusion that Asians were neither white nor African. Because the distinction between white and Asian was considerably unstable, however, those charged with the interpretation and implementation of the naturalization act faced difficult racial classification questions. Through archival research and a close reading of the arguments contained in the documents of the US Bureau of Naturalization, especially those documents that discussed challenges to racial eligibility for naturalization, I demonstrate that the strategy of foregrounding shared external threats to the nation as a means of transcending perceived racial divisions was often more important to racial classification than legal doctrine. I argue that this was due to the rapid shifts in the nation’s enmities and alliances during the early twentieth century and the close relationship between race, nation, and sovereignty. The book is forthcoming from SUNY Press with a publication date of October 2017.

For portions of the book previously published in article form, see “British Imperialism, the Indian Independence Movement, and the Racial Eligibility Requirements in the Naturalization Act: United States v. Thind Revisited, Georgetown Journal of Law & Modern Critical Race Perspectives 7 (2015): 1-42, available online at, and “Persecutory Agency in the Racial Prerequisite Cases: Islam, Christianity, and Martyrdom in United States v. Cartozian,” University of Miami Race and Social Justice Law Review 2 (2012): 117-88, available online at Below are some selected links providing additional information about the racial eligibility provisions of
 the naturalization act before 1952 and their impact on Arab, Armenian, Asian Indian, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants.

Ozawa v. United States, 260 U.S. 178 (1922)
United States v. Thind, 261 U.S. 204 (1923)
United States v. Cartozian, 6 F.2d 919 (D. Or. 1925)
United States v. Pandit, 15 F.2d 285 (9th Cir. 1926)
Ex parte Mohriez, 54 F. Supp. 941 (D. Mass. 1944)
Discussion of Ozawa and Thind in Race - The Power of an Illusion
Portrait of Takeo Ozawa from the Japanese American National Museum
Bhagat Singh Thinds Naturalization Saga and Documents
Sakharam Pandits Lecture Circuit Pamphlet
Tatos Cartozian with his Daughters
In re Rodríguez, 81 F. 337 (W.D. Tex. 1897)

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