Brett Walker

Brett Walker

Fellow: Awarded 2013
Field of Study: History of Science, Technology and Economics

Competition: US & Canada

Montana State University

Brett L. Walker is Regents Professor of History at Montana State University, Bozeman.  He received his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon and was assistant professor of history at Yale University prior to returning home to Big Sky Country.  He teaches courses on environmental history, Japanese history, and world history. He has written three books in addition to two coedited volumes, the most recent of which is Japan at Nature’s Edge: The Environmental Context of a Global Power (Hawaii, 2013). Currently, he is writing Cambridge’s Concise History of Japan. His nonacademic writing has appeared in Sail magazine.

His first book, The Conquest of Ainu Lands (California, 2001), investigates the conquest of Japan’s northernmost island in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His analysis demonstrates that the conquest of Hokkaido fueled early modern Japanese economies and bodies much as European expansion to the New World brought silver and sugar to European ones. He explores how environmental change and epidemic diseases engendered dependency among native Ainu groups, enabling the Japanese subjugation of Hokkaido and beyond. Four years later he published The Lost Wolves of Japan (Washington, 2005), which focuses on the two subspecies of wolf in Japan that hunters pursued to extinction at the end of the nineteenth century. For this project, he spent as much time researching with wolf biologists in Yellowstone National Park as he did in archives in Japan, trying, through ethological and ecological sciences, to give wolves a voice. The book pushes the boundaries of nonhuman agency in historical analysis.

His third book, Toxic Archipelago (Washington, 2010), winner of the George Perkins Marsh Prize for best book in environmental history from the American Society for Environmental History, investigates pollution episodes in Japan’s modern history and how they evidence the way in which our bodies are integrated into environments, particularly industrialized ones. He argues that because our bodies are embedded in environments, as those environments are engineered and polluted our bodies become relics of our industrial age, basically historical artifacts.

Brett skis regularly in Montana and sails in the San Juan Islands with friends and family. He has been fishing since he was a small boy and relishes summer caddis fishing on the Gallatin River, where he enmeshes himself in a watery world of currents, bugs, and fish.  His research, writing, and teaching are inspired by the beautiful Montana landscape that he and his ever-supportive pack call home.


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