My specialty within history is the history of the life sciences. Upon arriving at the UW, I became interested in natural history, the predecessor of modern biology. I had long been interested in the interaction of science with questions of politics and economics and thus began to investigate the practice of natural history as an “imperial science” in the Pacific Northwest. Or, science put in the service of advancing the expansionist aims of European nations contending for control of what is now Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia in the first half of the nineteenth century. The main question I am addressing is – how did natural history shape, and how was it shaped by, imperialist aims for the region?
Most of my research has been conducted locally. In particular, the journals of naturalists and fur traders have provided considerable insight into the practice of natural history in the Northwest and its implications for imperialism as expressed in the main economic activities conducted between Europeans and native peoples of the area. In addition, I am currently investigating the records of the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). As the representative of British power in the Northwest, the HBC was well placed to exert considerable political and economic influence in the region. The HBC was also significant in providing logistical support for visiting naturalists, and HBC employees themselves conducted natural historical research, either at the behest of the company or for the purposes of assisting scientific organizations in Britain.
The Graduate Research Grant will enable me to make trips to the HBC Archives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the Royal British Columbia Archives in Victoria, where I will undertake an intensive examination of HBC records as well as the perspectives of individual naturalists, traders and native people. This will aid me greatly in the completion of my dissertation. Furthermore, such information will help our historical – and contemporary – understanding of the connections between science and questions of political and economic power.
Brian Schefke, a doctoral candidate in History, received a 2007-08 Graduate Research Grant from Foreign Affairs, Canada for his project, “A Naturalist’s Empire: Natural History and Imperialism in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, 1790-1860.” Brian’s topic deals with the activities of naturalists working in the Pacific Northwest during the early nineteenth century and how their work was connected to the interests of imperial powers, such as Britain, and the institutions through which they worked, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company.