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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.

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.

Contemporary period (1789-…)
World or no region