Department ofHistory

Jacob Lee

Jacob Lee

Associate Professor of History

313 Weaver Building

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: (814) 863-0184

Jacob Lee Headshot



I am a historian of early America and the American West, focusing on colonialism and borderlands.  My first book, Masters of the Middle Waters: Indian Nations and Colonial Ambitions Along the Mississippi (Harvard University Press, 2019), embedded intertwined Native and imperial histories in the physical landscape of Middle America, a vast region encompassing much of the central Mississippi River valley. In the centuries between the collapse of the ancient metropolis of Cahokia around A.D. 1300 and the rise of the U.S. empire in the early 1800s, power flowed through the kinship-based alliances and social networks that controlled travel and communication along the many rivers of the midcontinent. Drawing on a range of English-, French-, Spanish-, and Illinois-language sources, as well as archaeology, oral history, and environmental science, Masters of the Middle Waters emphasized the power of personal relationships and the environment to shape the course of empires and nations.

I am currently working on a history of the Louisiana Purchase, tentatively titled An Empire Without Bounds: How the United States Conquered the Louisiana Purchase. In 1803, when the U.S. purchased claim to more than 800,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River, it possessed only the most tenuous hold on the region. This project explores the decades of negotiation and compromise, conquest and violence that followed, the processes by which the U.S. established and maintained authority over its western claims, and the ways that Native peoples and colonists limited imperial power in the American West.


Selected Awards and Fellowships:

Richard H. Collins Award, Kentucky Historical Society
John Carter Brown Library Associates Fellowship, John Carter Brown Library, Brown University
Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship, Huntington Library
Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of Illinois Fellowship, Newberry Library
Jacob M. Price Visiting Research Fellowship, William B. Clements Library, University of Michigan


Publication Highlights:

“Some Say He’s Dead, Some Say He Never Will Be: Mountain Men and the Frontier Hero Myth in Jeremiah Johnson and The Revenant,” in Writing History with Lightning: Representations of Nineteenth Century America on Film, ed. John C. Inscoe and Matthew C. Hulbert (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019)

“Unionism, Emancipation, and the Origins of Kentucky’s Confederate Identity,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 111 (Spring 2013): 199-233.

“‘Whether It Really Be Truth or Fiction’: Colonel Reuben T. Durrett, the Filson Club, and Historical Memory in Postbellum Kentucky,” Ohio Valley History 9 (Winter 2009): 27-47.

“‘Between Two Fires’: Cassius M. Clay, Slavery, and Antislavery in the Kentucky Borderlands,” Ohio Valley History6 (Fall 2006): 50-70.


Areas of Specialization: