Blog Index
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1. A Family History of Illness: Memory as Medicine (Seattle: University of Washington Press, forthcoming)

Dr. Charles A. Janeway, discoverer of Common Variable Immunodeficiency, protesting the Vietnam War on the Boston Commons. In this deeply personal narrative, Brett L. Walker sets out to construct a history of his body in an effort of better understanding his diagnosis with a serious immunological disorder. The final product is a startlingly fresh book, one that positions history as the key to understanding our selves, our families, and our shared communities.

 A doctor’s deceptively simple question, “Do you have a family history of illness?” launched Walker’s investigation into his and his family’s medical past, including the history of the discovery of his immunological disorder by a Harvard professor of medicine in the mid-twentieth century. What emerges is a gritty historical memoir, with its attention to the body’s immune system and microbial composition, and the biological and cultural origins of memory and history.

In the end, Walker discovers something far more valuable than a family history of illness. He concludes that family legacies are what shape us and color our world, such as his relationship with an iconic grandfather and rural life on a Montana wheat and barley farm. He finds that family is at the root of identity and values—without ties to this history, we are like wheat waving in the wind. This, he concludes, is the more lasting lesson of the book. Walker submits that, at a time when only the present seems to matter, we must renew our interest in the past, or risk misunderstanding our selves and the world around us.



2. "Yukikaze and Japan's War in the South Pacific"

The destroyer Yukikaze escorting the battleship Yamato during Operation Ten-Go in April 1945. In this revisionist history of Japan's naval campaign in the South Pacific (1941-45), Brett L. Walker, Regents Professor of History at Montana State University, explores the Imperial Japanese Navy’s operational strategies through the lens of recent writings on “resource wars” by telling the story of the war from the vantage point of the cramped bridge of Yukikaze, the only destroyer of her class to survive the war. Yukikaze’s busy mission log reveals a destroyer heavily involved with the most epic naval battles of the Pacific War, but also protecting the resources of the Dutch East Indies, including escorting lumbering tankers from southern oil fields to the home islands. With this topic, Walker's contention will be that this Pacific context remains central to understanding Japan’s modern history and, given such threats as Chinese maritime ambitions, depleted fisheries, and sea-level rise, it has direct bearing on the archipelago’s past, present, and future security.