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Dr John Lee

Assistant Professor (East Asian History)

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Assistant Professor (East Asian History) in the Department of History  
Member of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies  


John S. Lee is an environmental historian of early modern East Asia, particularly the Korean peninsula, with transregional interests in: comparative histories of pre-industrial forestry; the history of pine; the premodern history of the conservationist state; and the long-term environmental legacies of Eurasian empires.

His current monograph project, Kingdom of Pines: State Forestry and the Making of Korea, 918-1910, examines the rise and fall of the longest continuous state forestry system in world history, that of Korea's Chosŏn dynasty. For five centuries, the Chosŏn dynasty maintained an extensive state forestry system around the protection of a single type of conifer, the pine, across the Korean peninsula. Kingdom of Pines tells the story of how state forestry worked - and did not work - for so long in the limited confines of a pre-industrial agrarian polity. His other current project examines the environmental legacies of the Mongol Empire in Asia, with focus on the long-term impact of Inner Asian equine culture on the woodland and coastal zones of sedentary East Asia.

John joined the History department in 2019 as Assistant Professor in East Asian History. Before he came to Durham, he was Presidential Fellow in Environmental History at the University of Manchester and a postdoctoral fellow in the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University. He received his Ph.D in History and East Asian Languages in 2017 from the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University.

Research interests

  • Korean history
  • Environmental history
  • History of pre-industrial forestry
  • The conservationist state in the early modern world
  • Environmental legacies of the Mongol Empire

Research Projects

  • Thinking East Asia

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Asia (excluding Middle East): Korean history
  • Environment and culture: Korea


Chapter in book

  • Lee, John S. (2023). "A State of Ranches and Forests: The Environmental Legacy of the Mongol Empire in Korea.". In Forces of Nature: New Perspectives on Korean Environments. Fedman, David., Kim, Eleana J. & Park, Albert L. Cornell University Press. 37-47.
  • Lee, John S. (2022). The Sylvan Local: The Pine Protection Kye in Late Chosŏn Korea, 1700–1900. In The Cultivated Forest: People and Woodlands in Asian History. Miller, Ian M., Davis, Bradley Camp, Lander, Brian & Lee, John S. University of Washington Press. 60-76.
  • Lee, John S. (2020). "Geography, climate, physical data". In History and Economic Life: A Student’s Guide to approaching Economic and Social History sources. Christ, Georg & Rössner, Philipp R. Routledge.

Edited book

  • Miller, Ian M., Davis, Bradley Camp, Lander, Brian & Lee, John S. (2022). The Cultivated Forest: People and Woodlands in Asian History. University of Washington Press.

Edited Journal

Journal Article