In 1973 James received Bachelor of Art at the University of California in Santa Cruz. Then he got Master of Arts at the University of California in Berkeley in 1976, and finally earned Doctor of Philosoph at the University of California in Santa Cruz in 1983.
James Young is Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of English and Judaic & Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he has taught since 1988, and Founding Director of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has also taught at New York University as a Dorot Professor of English and Hebrew/Judaic Studies in 1984 - 1988, at Bryn Mawr College in the History of Religion, and at the University of Washington, Harvard University, and Princeton University as a visiting professor. His teaching and research areas include narrative theory, cultural memory studies, Holocaust studies, and visual culture.
Professor Young is the author of "Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust", "The Texture of Memory", "At Memory's Edge: After-images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture", and "The Stages of Memory: Reflections on Memorial Art, Loss, and the Spaces Between." He was also the Guest Curator of an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York City, entitled "The Art of Memory: Holocaust Memorials in History" and was the editor of "The Art of Memory", the exhibition catalogue for this show.
Professor Young has written widely on public art, memorials, and national memory. His articles, reviews, and Op-Ed essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Book Review, and Op-Ed pages, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Forward, and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, among other newspapers, as well as in scholarly journals such as Critical Inquiry, Representations, New Literary History, PMLA, Partisan Review, The Yale Journal of Criticism, Annales, SAQ, History and Theory, Harvard Design Magazine, Jewish Social Studies, Contemporary Literature, History and Memory, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Prooftexts, The Jewish Quarterly, Tikkun, and Slate, among dozens of other journals and collected volumes. His books and articles have been published in German, French, Hebrew, Japanese, and Swedish editions.
In 1997, Professor Young was appointed by the Berlin Senate to the five-member Findungskommission for Germany's national "Memorial to Europe's Murdered Jews", which selected Peter Eisenman’s design, finished and dedicated in May 2005. He has also consulted with Argentina’s government on its memorial to the desaparacidos, as well as with numerous city agencies on their memorials and museums. Most recently, he was appointed by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to the jury for the “National 9/11 Memorial” design competition.
In 2000, he was appointed as Editor-in-Chief of "The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization", a ten-volume anthology of primary sources, documents, texts, and images, forthcoming with Yale University Press. At present, he is completing an insider’s story of the World Trade Center Memorial, entitled "Memory at Ground Zero: A Juror’s Report on the World Trade Center Site Memorial and Museum."
James is a Democrat.
On June 21, 1987 James married a gallery director Lori J. Friedman.