OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Erika Lee

Portrait of Erika Lee
Image Credit: Eric Mueller

Erika Lee is Vice President of the OAH and a Regents Professor, Distinguished McKnight University Professor, the Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History, and Director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. Lee is an active public intellectual who is a sought-after speaker in the media, nationally, and internationally. She is the author or co-author of award-winning books in U.S. immigration and Asian American history, including America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States (2019); The Making of Asian America: A History (2015, Chinese edition, 2019); Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America (2010), with Judy Yung; and At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943 (2003). At the Immigration History Research Center, Lee has helped pioneer ways of merging immigration history with the digital humanities. She launched and oversees the National Endowment for the Humanities–funded Immigrant Stories project, which works with recent immigrants and refugees to collect, preserve, and share their experiences via a multilingual, digital storytelling website and archive. She also founded and co-organized the #ImmigrationSyllabus project, a digital educational resource offering historical perspectives to contemporary immigration debates.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

As the United States enacts new immigration policies that ban travel from six mostly-Muslim countries, builds a new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, reduces refugee resettlement, and expands deportation, it is clear that a new age of xenophobia has begun. In this lecture, award-winning American historian Erika Lee charts the long history of American xenophobia to reveal a sobering portrait of how xenophobia works and why it is still flourishing today.
As the fastest growing group in the United States, Asian Americans are helping to change America. But much of their long history has been forgotten. In a lecture that spans centuries and continents, Lee shows that the long history of Asian Americans offers a new way of understanding America itself, its complicated histories of race and immigration, and its place in the world today.
While Ellis Island has come to represent America's welcome to immigrants, Angel Island, its counterpart on the West Coast, reflects America's more complicated history of immigration. In this lecture, award-winning historian Erika Lee reveals the forgotten histories of Asian, European, and Mexican immigrants who entered, were detained at and deported from the U.S. from Angel Island. She shows that the history of Angel Island is ultimately about America itself and its complicated relationship to immigration, a story that continues today.