Erika Lee

Regents Professor

History and Asian American Studies, College of Liberal Arts, 2018

Regents Professor Erika Lee, Distinguished McKnight University Professor, is one of the nation’s leading scholars in the field of immigration history. She is a professor in the Department of History and the Asian American Studies Program, the director of the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC), the Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History, and an Andrew Carnegie Fellow for 2018-2020. She also served as the director of the Immigration History Research Center and Archives (2012); the director of the Asian American Studies Program (2009-2012); and, director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of History (2003-2006). Lee is credited with discovering new sources of historical research, developing new frameworks for studying the past, and creating new digital tools that have helped to change the way immigration in the U.S. and the world is documented, taught, and understood. She is also credited with playing a key role in reshaping the entire field of American immigration history.

Lee is the author of three books, all of which have won major awards. The Making of Asian America: A History, traces the histories of Asian Americans, the fastest growing group in the United States, into the Americas beginning in the 1500s and ending in the present day. Angel Island: Immigration Gateway to America, explores America’s complicated relationship to immigration through the history of San Francisco’s immigration station, the “Ellis Island of the West.” And, her first book, At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943, shows how the Chinese exclusion laws, the country’s first immigration laws to single out an entire group for exclusion, recast the United States into a “gatekeeping nation.” She is now completing a fourth book, a sweeping examination of American xenophobia from the colonial era to the present titled Fear of the Stranger: A History of American Xenophobia. A prolific writer, Lee is also the author of more than 30 peer-reviewed or invited journal articles and book chapters published or forthcoming in scholarly journals, anthologies, and conference proceedings. She has over 20 opinion pieces or blog entries published. In addition, she founded, launched, and currently directs Immigrant Stories, a research, academic, and community engaged project that works with recent immigrants and refugees to create a digital collection about recent immigration. This project was awarded $324,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Implementation Grant and is being used in the US and in Europe. In total, Lee has secured more than $650,000 in grants; considered to be an appreciable sum in the world of the humanities. Lee has been invited and given more than 50 professional lectures and keynotes at colleges, universities, historical societies, museums, and organizations nationally and internationally.

In addition to her critically acclaimed books, Lee is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions throughout the broader scholarly community as well as the University of Minnesota campus. Recently awarded an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, (also known as the nation’s “brainy award,”) she also received the 2018 Distinguished Historian Award from the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and was named Distinguished Lecturer in the Organization of American Historians. Lee has been awarded a wide array of highly competitive grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the U.S. State Department, and the Social Science Research Council. Her research has been the foundation for historical exhibits at the National Archives, the New York Historical Society, and the Angel Island Immigration Station. The University of Minnesota has bestowed upon her a McKnight Land Grant Professorship, a McKnight Presidential Fellowship, the Fesler-Lampert Professorship in the Public Humanities, and the Sara Evans Faculty Woman Scholar/Leader Award. In 2016, she received the Distinguished McKnight University Professor and in 2017, she was awarded the Dean’s Medal in the College of Liberal Arts.

Lee is a highly esteemed teacher and mentor. Her significance as an intellectual leader and role model for students, especially for first generation Asian American and Latino/a, women, and LGBT college and doctoral students, appears again and again in student evaluations and from those who contributed to her nomination. Her evaluations demonstrate that Lee is consistently near the top of her department. She has advised 16 graduate students who have completed their PhDs, and is currently advising or co-advising three others. She has taught over 1,100 students in undergraduate courses, and more than 120 graduate students. Students cite her extraordinary approachability and the tremendous time and energy she invests in mentoring them outside of the classroom with scholarship applications, academic and career advice, and assistance with coursework and requirements. She has mentored a multitude of undergraduate students who have gone on to further study and excel in their careers in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Her service to the profession, the broader public community, and to the University of Minnesota, is exceptional. She has served on numerous professional organizations and over 40 doctoral committees in the departments of History, American Studies, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, English, Social Work, and Communications with more than two dozen committee assignments, including directing the Asian American Studies Program; and, multiple committee and leadership positions, including co-chair of the Promotion, Merit, and Tenure Committee.

The University of Minnesota is fortunate to call Professor Lee one of its own.

Biographies are as-of time of award presentation.