Min Kyung Lee is Assistant Professor of Modern Architecture in the Growth and Structure of Cities Department at Bryn Mawr College. Her previous work has explored the relations of mapping, geography, architecture, and urbanism, tracing the transition from perspectival to orthographic representations of cities during the nineteenth century. Her monograph, The Tyranny of the Straight Line: Mapping Modern Paris is currently under review. With this project, she was the 2020-2021 Banister Fletcher Global Fellow at the University of London- Institute of Paris, Queen Mary University and the Bartlett School of Architecture. Her current research focuses on migration histories of the built environment. It examines Korean migration to the US during the Cold War and the social, political and economic contexts that shaped their relations with African-Americans. She is the recipient of the 2021-2023 New Directions Fellowship funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Min Kyung Lee
Wolf Humanities Center Regional Fellow
2021—2022 Forum on Migration
Min Kyung Lee
Assistant Professor of Growth and Structure of Cities, Bryn Mawr College
Mapping Wigs and Plywood: Korean Migration and the African American Urban Landscape
This research project weaves together histories of Korean Americans and African Americans, accounting for global economic and migration policies that shaped the built environments of Black neighborhoods in the US, and specifically Philadelphia. By focusing on Korea’s major export goods—wigs and plywood— I argue that the rapid economic development of Korea’s post-war period was linked to urban spaces occupied by African Americans, and accounts for the intra-racial contexts of place-making in commercial spaces. Tracing these materials and objects connects the bodies of Korean women whose hair and labor were used to produce and sell these goods to the African American women who bought and wore them, and whose interac,ons in wig stores made these significant urban sites of self-representation and social negotiation.