One of the nation’s leading immigration and Asian American historians, Lee is the inaugural Bae Family Professor of History and Radcliffe Alumni Professor at Harvard University and Past President of the Organization of American Historians. In 2023-2024, she is the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Prior to joining the faculty at Harvard, she was Regents Professor, the Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History, and the Director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. The granddaughter of Chinese immigrants, Lee grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, attended Tufts University, and received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Recently awarded an honorary degree from Tufts University and elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Lee also testified before Congress during its historic hearings on discrimination and violence against Asian Americans.
Lee is the author of four award-winning books in U.S. immigration and Asian American history: At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 (University of North Carolina Press, 2003), Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America (co-authored with Judy Yung, Oxford University Press, 2010), and The Making of Asian America: A History (Simon & Schuster, 2015, 2nd ed., 2016, Chinese version, 2019). Called “sweeping,” “comprehensive,” and “fascinating” by the New York Times and a “long overdue stirring chronicle” by the LA Times, The Making of Asian America was the recipient of the 2015 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature from the American Library Association, an “Editor’s Choice” by the New York Times, and was named to the Best Nonfiction Books of 2015 list by Kirkus Reviews. A new edition with a postscript about Asian American activism during the COVID-19 pandemic was recently published.
Made in Asian America: A History for Young People, a young adult non-fiction adaptation of The Making of Asian America coauthored with three-time Newbery Honor Award recipient Christina Soontornvat, will be published in 2024 with Harper Collins.
Lee’s most recent book, America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States (Basic Books, 2019, 2021) has been called “unflinching and powerful” by Carol Anderson (author of White Rage) and “essential reading” by Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Antiracist). It won the American Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the Richard Frisbie Honored Book Award for Nonfiction. It was also a finalist for the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award and the Minnesota Nonfiction Book Award and was named to best books lists by Time, USA Today, and Ms. Magazine. It was highlighted by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the New York Public Library as one of the most important books illuminating the Trump era and informing essential issues in the 2020 election. It has been excerpted in The Atlantic and profiled in The New Yorker. Op-eds based on the book appeared in Time and the Washington Post. The paperback edition was recently published with a new epilogue on xenophobia and racism during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Immigration History Research Center
At the Immigration History Research Center, Lee helped to merge immigration history with the digital humanities. She launched and oversees the new Immigrants in COVID America project as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Immigrant Stories Project which works with recent immigrants and refugees to collect, preserve, and share their experiences with a new multi-lingual digital story-telling website and collection. She also founded and co-organized the #ImmigrationSyllabus, a digital educational resource offering historical perspectives to contemporary immigration debates and the Immigrants in COVID America project.
Awards & Honors
She has been the recipient of numerous national awards for her scholarship and her advocacy. These include best book awards from the American Library Association, the Immigration and Ethnic History Society, the Association for Asian American Studies, and the Western Historical Association and fellowships and grants from the Carnegie Corporation, the National Endowment of the Humanities, and the Social Science Research Council. Most recently, she received an honorary degree from Tufts University, was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and was honored with the 2018 Distinguished Historian Award from the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. For her advocacy work, she has received the 2016 Pioneer Award from OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, and the 2015 Immigrant Heritage Award from the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. At the University of Minnesota, Lee has been named a Regents Professor, a Distinguished McKnight University Professor, and received the 2017 Dean’s Medal from the College of Liberal Arts.
Lee is an active public intellectual who is a widely sought-after speaker around the U.S. and internationally. She regularly appears in the media, including featured appearances in PBS’s “Asian Americans,” the History Channel’s “America: The Promised Land,” PBS’s “The Chinese Exclusion Act,” Bill Moyer’s “Chinese in America,” and interviews with PBS NewsHour, CNN, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, Code Switch, 1A, Weekend Edition, and BackStory, Public Radio International’s The World, the BBC, the New York Times, ABC News, NBC News, the Guardian, CSPAN, Washington Post, Star Tribune, Beijing News, and the Japan Times. Her opinion pieces have been published in Time, the Washington Post, New York Daily News, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times.