Dr. Jason Colby

Dr. Jason Colby
Professor and Department Chair
Office: Cle A203b

BA (Whitman), MA, PhD (Cornell)

Area of expertise

Environmental History, Pacific Coast History, Humans and Climate Change, Modern American History, US International Relations

Office Hours

Spring 2024: No office hours


I was born in Victoria and grew up along the Pacific Coast, mostly in the Seattle area of Washington State.  During my high school and undergraduate years, I worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska and on fish farms in Puget Sound.  I also studied overseas in Central America.  Before entering graduate school, I taught history and English in Taiwan, worked at a land-use law firm in Seattle, and travelled throughout the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.  I earned my PhD from Cornell University in 2005 and taught at the University of Texas at El Paso before coming to the University of Victoria in 2007.  I teach and write on marine environmental history and US international history with a particular interest in the historical interactions of humans and whales on the Pacific Coast. My most recent book examines the transformation of human relations with killer whales (Orcinus orca) from the 1960s to the present, and its impact on regional and global environmental values and policy.  I am currently researching for two new book projects.  The first, funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant, is entitled Devilfish: The History and Future of Gray Whales and People.  The second, with Dr. Loren McClenachan, is entitled Once and Future Kings: The Environmental History and Historical Ecology of Chinook Salmon.

Curriculum Vitae

Selected publications


Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean’s Greatest Predator (Oxford University Press, 2018)


The Business of Empire: United Fruit, Race, and U.S. Expansion in Central America (Cornell University Press, 2011)


  • Honourable mention, Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations
  • Honourable mention, Ralph Gomory Prize, Business History Conference

Recent articles and chapters

“Tuffy’s Cold War: Science, Memory, and the US Navy’s Dolphin,” Traces of the Animal Past: Methodological Challenges in Animal History (University of Calgary Press, 2022). 

“Swimming with Gigi: Captivity, Gray Whales, and the Environmental Culture of the Pacific Coast,” Across Species and Cultures: Whales, Humans, and Pacific Worlds (University of Hawaii Press, (2022). 

“Learning to Love the Sea Wolves,” Spirits of the Coast: Orcas in Science, Art, and History (Royal BC Museum, 2020).

“Conscripting Leviathan: Science, Cetaceans, and the Cold War,” Diplomatic History (June 2020).

“The Whale in the City: Orca Captivity and Environmental Politics in Vancouver,” in Darcy Ingram, ed., Animal Metropolis: Histories of Human-Animal Relations in Urban Canada (University of Calgary Press, 2016).

“Change in Black and White: Orca Bodies and the New Pacific Northwest,” in Susan Nance, ed., Animals and History (Syracuse University Press, 2015).      

Interviews and Public Events

“How Captivity Changed Everything,” Pod of Orcas, SeaDoc Society

Seattle Aquarium, Sound Conversations, May 2019

Intersecting Cultures of Whales and Humans, Ideafest 2019

KUOW, National Public Radio—Seattle, July 2018


“The Real Whale Who Changed the World”

“How Live Capture Changed Scientific Views of Killer Whales”


Course: Title:
HSTR 101E Environmental History of the World
HSTR 200 What If the Nazis Had Won
HSTR 201 Introduction to Historical Research
HSTR 210A The United States to the Civil War
HSTR 210B The United States from Post-War Reconstruction - present
HSTR 303A The Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1945
HSTR 303B United States since 1945
HSTR 307A   The United States in the World, 1750 - 1914
HSTR 307B The United States in the World, 1914 - present   
HSTR 410 Seminar in American History
  • Beastly Nation: Animals and People in US History
  • A World On Fire: The United States, the Cold War, and the Environment
HSTR 471 Seminar in World History
  • From Oil to Icons: The History of Whales and People

Grad students

In progress

Ella Cathcart (MA)


Rachel Schneider, “‘Expansion is too Clean a Name for it’: Black Perspectives on American Imperial Expansion, 1898-1902” (MA, 2023)

Aimee Richard, “Whale Watching in the City” (MA, Public History, 2022)

  • Winner of SSHRC Master’s Award

Gordon Lyall, “Turning the Tide: Clams and Colonialism in the Salish Sea, 1925-1994” (PhD, 2022) 

  • Winner of SSHRC Doctoral Award

Timothy Cunningham, “Beasts in the Garden City: Animals, Humans, and Settlement on Canada’s West Coast” (MA, 2021) 

  • Winner of SSHRC Master’s Award

Kelly J. Clark, Happy Endings (documentary film)(MA, Public History, 2018) 

Adam Kostrich, “The Imperial Species: Masculinity and Necropolitics in Frank Buck’s Writings” (MA, 2018) 

  • Winner of SSHRC Master’s Award

Isobel Griffin, “Managing the Entertainment: Marine Mammal Technologies at Marineland of the Pacific” (MA, 2018)

Jake Sherman, "'A Ship on the Waves of the Zeitgeist:' An Oral History of the Georgia Straight, 1967 – 1973” (MA, 2018)

Blake Butler, “Fishing on Porpoise: The Origins and Early Years of the Tuna-Dolphin Controversy” (MA, 2017)

  • Winner of SSHRC Master’s Award

Sheila Hamilton, “Panamanian Politics and Panama’s Relations with the United States Leading Up to the Hull-Alfaro Treaty” (MA, 2014)

Matt Logan, “‘We Say All the Real Things. And We Believe Them’: The Establishment of the United States Information Agency 1953” (MA, 2012)

Carlee Johnson, “Remembering ‘the American Island of Oahu’: Hawai'i Under Military Rule 1941-1945” (MA, 2011)

Jackson Todd, “Politics, Ideals, and Religion: Abraham Lincoln and the Growth to Emancipation 1860-1863” (MA, 2009)

Rob Douglas, “‘Being Successfully Nasty’: The United States, Cuba and State-Sponsored Terrorism” (MA, 2008)