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Victoria Lee

Assistant Professor
Ohio University
Microbe Smiths: Engineering Microbial Control in Twentieth-Century Japan
01 September 2020 - 30 June 2021
History, philosophy and sociology of science

Victoria Lee received her Ph.D. in the History of Science from Princeton. She is currently Assistant Professor of History at Ohio University. She has held fellowships at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin, the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, and the University of Tokyo. She has published on the history of microbiology, modern applied and industrial knowledge, scientific globalization, and the political economy of everyday life. She is also interested in the historical intersections between chemistry, health, and the environment.

Her fellowship benefits from the support of the RFIEA+ LABEX, with a national funding (Grant ANR-11-LABX-0027-01). 

Research Interests

History of microbial biology and chemistry; Modern applied and industrial knowledge; Health and the environment.

Microbe Smiths: Engineering Microbial Control in Twentieth-Century Japan

This project is a comparative historical exploration of the problem of microbial control for achieving sustainable growth. It explores fermentation science in twentieth-century Japan, in a society where microbes were distinctively known and used as living workers as much as pathogens, as a direct precedent to the more recent recognition of microbial ecologies as an inseparable part of human society in Europe and America. New developments in medicine, biology, and chemistry in recent decades strongly suggest that the traditional eradication-based approach to the microbial world is unsustainable, including for the understanding of the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, the recognition of the microbiome as a central component in human and animal health, and the revolution in technologies to manipulate cellular processes for drug discovery, food production, and green chemical manufacturing. To illuminate contemporary issues in microbiology and sustainability,  this project draws inspiration from philosophical approaches to scientific pluralism to use history as a comparative reservoir of possibility. It elucidates the role of science in shaping political economy through material culture, in order to nuance polarized narratives of the developmental state and social response, by focusing instead on the role of middle-level technical experts in the interplay between industrialization and human environmental impact in the modern period.


Carte Blanche de Victoria Lee, Ohio University, 2020-2021 Paris IAS Fellow, with the participation of Aleksandra Kobiljski, Senior Research Fellow at the CNRS, director of the Japan Research Center at EHESS
15 Jul 2021 18:00 -
15 Jul 2021 18:45,
Rethinking Industrial Traditions and Innovation in Japan
Forum organized by Victoria Lee, Paris IAS Research Fellow, with the support of the Paris IAS
27 May 2021 09:30 -
27 May 2021 17:30,
Our Microbial Lives: A Forum Against Eradication
Talk by Victoria Lee, Paris IAS Fellow, as part of the series "Wild Fermentation" organized by the associations Active Cultures and GYOPO
13 Mar 2021 21:00 -
13 Mar 2021 22:30,
Wild Fermentation: Microbes, Fermentation & Makgeolli
Talk organized by the Japan Foundation, Toronto, with Stephen Lyman, clinical epidemiologist, and Victoria Lee, historian and Paris IAS Fellow
22 Jan 2021 15:00 -
25 Jan 2021 03:00,
Healthy Hakko: The Fermented Culinary Arts of Japan
Contemporary period (1789-…)
World or no region