Search within:

Victoria Lee

Victoria Lee, portrait
Associate Professor
Bentley Annex 403

Recent News


  • Ph.D. in History of Science, Princeton University
  • M.A. in History of Science, Princeton University
  • M.Sc. in History of Science, Medicine and Technology, Imperial College London
  • B.A. in Natural Sciences (Physics), University of Cambridge


  • Science and Technology; Modern Period
  • Japan
  • East Asia; Environment; Craft and Political Economy

Victoria Lee is an associate professor in the History Department. She is a historian of modern science and technology, with a focus on the role of Japan in the 20th and 21st centuries. Her book, The Arts of the Microbial World: Fermentation Science in Twentieth-Century Japan (Chicago 2021) looks at Japanese society’s engagement with microbes in science, industry and environmental management. It explores how fermentation expanded beyond small-scale traditional manufactures to take special prominence in food, resources, and medicine, addressing scientists’ and technicians’ role in defining the texture of everyday life and material culture as an aspect of political economy. In doing so, it demonstrates that knowledge of microbes lay at the heart of some of Japan’s most prominent technological breakthroughs in the global economy. The book was awarded the 2023 International Convention of Asia Scholars Book Prize for the Best Book in the Humanities.

Lee is currently exploring how 20th-century microbial history offers precedents for approaching questions of sustainability in the 21st century, in light of the growing appreciation of microbes' role in sustaining organisms at every level of life through the microbiome, mediating climate change (especially in agriculture), and contributing to innovations in green chemistry.

Before coming to Athens in 2016, Lee was a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Germany. She was subsequently a 2020–21 fellow at the Institut d'études avancées de Paris, where she organized the public event Our Microbial Lives: A Forum Against Eradication. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, NPR’s All Things Considered, and Mediapart. She is the director of the Technology and Society Certificate. In 2021 she received Ohio University’s Arts & Sciences Outstanding Faculty Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Award. She is a native of Toronto, Ontario.



The Arts of the Microbial World: Fermentation Science in Twentieth-Century Japan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021). (winner of the 2023 International Convention of Asia Scholars Book Prize for the Best Book in the Humanities)

Journal Articles

Wild Toxicity, Cultivated Safety: Aflatoxin and Kōji Classification as Knowledge Infrastructure,” History and Technology 35 (2019): 405-424.

Microbial Transformations: The Japanese Domestication of Penicillin Production, 1946-1951,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 48 (2018): 441-474. (awarded the 2019 Zhu Kezhen Junior Award from the International Society for the History of East Asian Science, Technology and Medicine)

The Microbial Production of Expertise in Meiji Japan,” Osiris 33 (2018): 171-190.

Chapters in Edited Volumes

Bioorganic Synthesis,” in Between Making and Knowing: Tools in the History of Materials Research (WSPC Encyclopedia of the Development and History of Materials Science), ed. Joseph D. Martin and Cyrus C. M. Mody (Singapore: World Scientific, 2020), 299-314.

Scaling Up from the Bench: Fermentation Tank,” in Boxes: A Field Guide, ed. Susanne Bauer, Maria Rentetzi, and Martina Schlünder (Manchester: Mattering Press, 2020), 288-304.

“Hakkō (kingendai)” (Fermentation, Modern Era), in Kagakushi jiten (Encyclopedia of the History of Chemistry), ed. Kagakushi gakkai (Kyoto: Kagaku dōjin, 2017), 524-525.

Mold Cultures: Traditional Industry and Microbial Studies in Early Twentieth-Century Japan,” in New Perspectives on the History of Life Sciences and Agriculture, ed. Denise Phillips and Sharon Kingsland (Cham: Springer, 2015), 231-252. (awarded the 2013 Forum for the History of Science in Asia Essay Prize)


Gods of Small Things,” Los Angeles Review of Books, June 27, 2021 (included on LARB’s Best Of: Science).

Unraveling the Search for Microbial Control in Twentieth-Century Pandemics,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 53 (2015): 122-125.


  • ET/HIST 2905: History of Technology in Society (required for all engineering majors)
  • HIST 3481/5481: Modern Japan
  • HIST 3500: Science and Society in the Modern World
  • HIST 3550: The Age of Darwin, 1800-Present
  • CAS 2405: Knowing What We Know