Brian Schefke

Currently, I am a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Washington. My areas of interest are the history of biology (and related life sciences) and environmental history. In particular, I am interested in the intersection of the histories of these disciplines with politics and commerce.

In my dissertation, I explore how natural history was employed as a tool of empire building in the Pacific Northwest in the early nineteenth century. The region was one of the last in North America to be encountered by Europeans, but quickly became an area of considerable imperial competition between European powers (and, later, the United States). For most of the first several decades of the nineteenth century, the British had the most significant presence in the Pacific Northwest. The British saw the Northwest as a place to be exploited commercially rather than to create settler colonies. The primary representative of British authority in the Northwest was the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), a fur trading concern. The HBC’s desire to fully exploit the opportunities available in the Northwest required knowledge about the land and its flora and fauna. Naturalists (or those with some training in natural history) were in a good position to obtain this knowledge, whether working directly for the company or for another institution that hoped to take advantaged of the HBC’s presence. Hence, naturalists coming to the Northwest fulfilled both their own goals – tied to British imperial expansion as such expansion made more areas available to them – and those of the HBC.

I plan to complete the dissertation by the fall of 2013. My future research plans are yet to be determined, but will likely shift to environmental topics of the twentieth century.