Blog Index
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1. A Family History of Illness (Seattle & London: 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, Regents Professor of History at Montana State University, constructs a history of his body and family health in an effort of better understanding his diagnosis with an immunological disorder in 2010. The final product represents a startlingly fresh way to view the role of history in understanding our physical selves and, in the broader sense, our communities.

While succumbing to pneumonia and a plural effusion in an Intensive Care Unit in Minneapolis, a doctor’s simple question, “Do you have a family history of illness?” eventually launched Walker’s investigation into his and his family’s medical past, including the history of the discovery of his immunological disorder by Charles A. Janeway, a Harvard professor of medicine, in the mid-twentieth century. What emerges is a gritty historical memoir, but one that suits our time, with its renewed attention to the body’s immune system and the gut’s microbial composition. Walker weaves together family story with immunological medicine, neurology and memory studies, memoir and autobiography, philosophy, and social scientific theory to expose the physical and cultural making of a dangerously diseased body.

In the end, however, Walker discovers something far more valuable than a predisposition to an immunological disease. He concludes that family stories are what shape us and color our world. This is the more lasting lesson of history. 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.