John Lee is a Ph.D. candidate in History and East Asian Languages in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. His Ph.D. dissertation, “Forests and the State in Pre-Industrial Korea, 918-1897,” is the first English-language treatment of Korea’s pre-industrial environmental history. Using a variety of Classical Chinese and Korean-language primary sources, his research examines the rise and fall of one of the longest-lasting state forestry systems in world history, that of Korea’s Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1897), illustrating how forestry policy, by transforming governance, state-society relations, and the environment across the Korean peninsula, both strengthened and undermined the Chosŏn state. Moreover, the dissertation offers a fresh lens into how an early modern state imagined and managed forest sources, how such management affected the environment, and how the state and local institutions can develop divergent responses to a common dependency, that of humanity on wood.
His other current project examines the environmental legacy of the Mongol Empire in Korea, focusing particularly on the long-term impact of Inner Asian equine culture on Korean society and ecologies. His publications include “Postwar Pines: The Military and the Expansion of State Forests in Post-Imjin Korea, 1598-1684,” forthcoming in the Journal of Asian Studies. His research has been supported by grants from the Fulbright Program (IIE), the Korea Foundation, the Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University, and the Harvard Korea Institute.