Jacob F. Lee, 2019–2020

Empire without Bounds: How the United States Conquered the Louisiana Purchase

Resident Associate, 2019-20

Assistant Professor of History, Penn State University

Jacob F. Lee

Jacob Lee is a historian of early America and the American West, focusing on colonialism and borderlands. His 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.

He is 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 Publications

Masters of the Middle Waters

  • Lee, Jacob F. Masters of the Middle Waters: Indian Nations and Colonial Ambitions Along the Mississippi. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2019.
  • Lee, Jacob F. “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. Edited by John C. Inscoe and Matthew C. Hulbert. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019.
  • Lee, Jacob F. “Unionism, Emancipation, and the Origins of Kentucky’s Confederate Identity.” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 111 (Spring 2013): 199–233.
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