Skip to content Skip to navigation

Allyson Hobbs

Headshot of Allyson Hobbs

Allyson Hobbs

Associate Professor of American History
Director of African and African American Studies
United States
Ph.D., University of Chicago, with distinction
B.A., Harvard University, magna cum laude

Allyson Hobbs is an Associate Professor of United States History, the Director of African and African American Studies, and the Kleinheinz Family University Fellow in Undergraduate Education at Stanford University. She is a contributing writer to The New and a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.  Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Nation, The, The Guardian, Politico, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She has appeared on C-SPAN, MSNBC and National Public Radio. In 2017, she was honored by the Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP with a Freedom Fighter Award. She served on the jury for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in History.

Allyson’s first book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, published by Harvard University Press in 2014, examines the phenomenon of racial passing in the United States from the late eighteenth century to the present. A Chosen Exile won the Organization of American Historians’ Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for best first book in American history and the Lawrence Levine Prize for best book in American cultural history. The book was also selected as a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2014, a “Best 15 Nonfiction Books by Black Authors in 2014” by The Root, a featured book in the New York Times Book Review Paperback Row in 2016, and a Paris Review “What Our Writers are Reading This Summer” Selection in 2017.

Allyson is currently at work on two books, both forthcoming from Penguin Press. Nowhere to Run: African American Travel in Twentieth Century America explores the violence, humiliation, and indignities that African American motorists experienced on the road and To Tell the Terrible, which examines black women’s testimonies against and collective memory of sexual violence.

"Storytelling Matters to Historian Allyson Hobbs," The Stanford Dish, February 19, 2016

"Stanford Historian Re-examines Practice of Racial 'Passing,'" Stanford Report, December 18, 2013 

She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and she received a Ph.D. with distinction from the University of Chicago.  She has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity. 

She teaches courses on American identity; African American history; African American women’s history; American road trips, migration, travel and mobility; and twentieth-century American history and culture.  She also has taught classes on Hamilton (the musical) and Michelle Obama.  She has won teaching awards including the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Prize, the Graves Award in the Humanities, and the St. Clair Drake Teaching Award.    

Students' reflections on Allyson Hobbs' seminar, "On the Road: A History of Travel in Twentieth Century America," AMSTUD 109Q

The Great Migration, C-SPAN, "Lectures in History," May 10, 2011

Selected Publications & Projects

Allyson Hobbs
Wallace Thurman
The groundbreaking Harlem Renaissance novel about prejudice within the black community
Emma Lou Morgan’s skin is black. So black that it’s a...
Allyson Hobbs
Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and...
Allyson Hobbs
Greta Olson and Birte Christ

Selected Journals & Book Chapters

Allyson Hobbs
Erica Edwards, Roderick Ferguson and Jeffrey Ogbar
As the longest-standing interdisciplinary field, African American Studies has laid the foundation for critically analyzing issues of race, ethnicity...
Allyson Hobbs
Mollie Godfrey, Vershawn Ashanti Young
African Americans once passed as whites to escape the pains of racism. Today’s neo-passing has pushed the old idea of passing in extraordinary new...

More Information

Praise for A Chosen Exile:

“[An] incisive cultural history… [Hobbs] takes nothing at face value—least of all the idea that the person who is passing is actually and truly of one race or the other… [A] critically vigilant work.”

—Danzy Senna, The New York Times Book Review

“A book that is at once literary, cultural, archival and social, crossing the borders of various approaches to the study of history in order to create a collage of a fascinating yet elusive phenomenon. Intrigued by the story of a distant relative who crosses the color line, Hobbs has followed this interest to explore the practice of passing with detail and rigor. Her writing is elegant, bubbling with curiosity even as it is authoritative and revelatory.”

—Imani Perry, The San Francisco Chronicle

“Hobbs provides fresh analysis of an oft-ignored phenomenon, and the result is as fascinating as it is innovative. She foregrounds the sense of loss that passing inflicted, and argues that many of those who were left behind were just as wounded and traumatized as those who departed. Those who passed may have had much to gain, but what were the hidden costs, the invisible scars of enforced patterns of subversion and suppression? She suggests that the core issue of passing is not what an individual becomes, but rather ‘losing what you pass away from.’ By turning safe assumptions inside out, Hobbs questions some of the longest-held ideas about racial identification within American society.”

—Catherine Clinton, Times Higher Education

“Passing, as Allyson Hobbs describes in this brilliant, fascinating new study, is itself as fluid, complex, and contradictory as our ideas of race.”

—Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe

"Allyson Hobbs' A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life is that rare work of scholarship that captures public attention and acquires a general readership....Hobbs is a gifted writer, both organizationally and stylistically. Her prose is authoritative and energetic. Hobbs's success in gaining a broad readership reflects her capacity to convey knowledge in a radically compressed way, as when she explains Reconstruction in one perfect phrase as being when the 'prospect of being both black and a citizen existed.'"

--Jane Dailey, Law and History Review, February 2016 

“In narrating the lives of Americans at the border of whiteness, Hobbs illuminates our understanding of our country’s tortured race history and of the injustices that drove people to make the ultimate migration—out of the tyranny of enslavement and the terrors of Jim Crow to the costly privilege of the larger white world. Their anguish, alienation, and constant fear of discovery are brilliantly and painfully rendered in this important book, and, through them, we see the arbitrariness of race and the origins of racial divisions that we live with to this day.”

—Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

“With remarkable research and deep feeling for her subjects, Hobbs uncovers the stories of countless Americans of African descent who severed their family ties to pass into a world where they would be accorded the privileges of whites. At turns sad, inspiring, and provocative, the book raises important questions about the enduring power of race in American life.”

—Martha A. Sandweiss, author of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line