Skip to main content

Matthew Booker


Department of History

Withers Hall 277

View CV 


Prof. Booker is on leave through summer 2024.

A native of northern California, I descend from Maine business people (by way of Bellingham, Washington) on my mother’s side and Virginia tobacco farmers (by way of Independence, Texas) on my father’s side. I have been through a variety of educational institutions, including an inner-city nursery school, grades K-8 in a tiny rural school, a suburban Catholic high school, the University of California at Berkeley, Hindu College at the University of Delhi, the University of Oregon, the University of Washington, and Stanford University. Before, during, between, and after educational experiences, I worked with varying success as a dishwasher, farm laborerbus driver, wine server, carpenter, Forest Service gruntlandscaper, tile-setter’s apprentice, title insurance examiner, field ecologist, and newspaper editor.


Teaching and Research Interests

My work examines the intersection between human beings and the natural world, mostly in North America. I study the boundaries of history, ecology, law and food production in urban and coastal spaces, using archival, digital humanities, and public history methods.

I am presently at work with Kjell Ericson (Kyoto University) on a history of the transpacific movements of the Japanese or “Pacific” oyster (Crassostrea gigas), the most common species in global mariculture.

My other book project is a history of local food production within American cities during the industrial and urban revolutions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The project began in a fellowship at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, Germany, advanced at the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Munson Institute on the maritime commons at Mystic, Connecticut, as a Fellow at the National Humanities Center, and as an Alumni Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center.

With Chad Ludington I co-edited Food Fights: How the Past Matters to Contemporary Food Debates. In the volume, leading scholars offer historical perspective on our current food debates, from gendered expectations of home cooking to GMOs and industrial food.

My first book Down By The Bay: San Francisco’s History Between The Tides (University of California Press) investigates how Native American, Mexican, and American societies used and changed a remarkable natural and urban space, the San Francisco Bay and Delta. It was runner up for the Northern California Book Award and was reviewed widely.

With colleagues at the National Humanities Center, Duke and UNC, I organized a national conference, “Beyond Despair: Theory and Practice in the Environmental Humanities” at the National Humanities Center. With Chad Ludington, I organized a national conference on Food + History at NC State.

With partners at the NCSU Libraries Special Collections and Genetic Engineering and Society Center at NCSU, I co-founded an effort to archive oral histories of genetic engineering in agriculture.

I co-founded and directed the Visual Narrative research cluster, an ambitious effort funded by the Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program that hired new faculty in four collaborating departments: History, Art+Design, Computer Science, and Electrical and Computer Engineering. The initiative builds on my longstanding interest in digital humanities, including relationships with collaborators at Stanford, UNC, Duke and the Digital Humanities Collaborative of North Carolina.

I am also interested in the causes and consequences of urban and suburban patterns of living, in using digital tools to analyze and map historical sources, in the history of agricultural technologies and the history of disease both as a physical reality and as a source of fear and spur to policy. Other projects include a a public science effort on the history and dispersal of sourdough, with Rob Dunn and Erin McKenney, both in the Department of Applied Ecology at NC State.

I often work with schools and museums, including an ongoing effort to apply history, landscape architecture and ecological science to adapting to sea level rise in San Francisco Bay (with Susan Schwartzenberg, Fisher Bay Observatory, San Francisco Exploratorium, and Jane Wolff, University of Toronto).

Teaching: I teach in modern U.S. history, environmental history, the history of American suburbs, U.S. agricultural history, historical methods, digital humanities, and advanced research and writing courses for undergraduate and graduate students.

I also teach outside History. I taught one of NC State’s core interdisciplinary courses, “Humans and the Environment,” as well as the senior capstone in Science, Technology & Society. I previously co-taught an interdisciplinary graduate seminar on new technologies (with Nora HaennBill KinsellaAndy Binder and Jason Delborne). In summer 2013 I co-taught a field course on managing endangered and invasive species on islands for incoming doctoral students in an NSF-funded interdisciplinary program (with Fred GouldJohn Godwin and Eric Aschehoug). In fall 2013 I taught a graduate seminar in digital humanities offered simultaneously with courses at UNC (Bobby Allen) and Duke (Mark Olson). That course helped create the Triangle Digital Humanities Network, a regional coalition of practitioners and scholars working in the digital humanities.

In 2016 I created a new course on American agricultural history. Guest speakers have included Chancellor Randy Woodson and faculty from agricultural economics, applied ecology, crop science, entomology, archivists at NCSU libraries, community food activists, extension agents, and the Duke Homestead Historical Site. In the future I hope to offer courses in the history of cities and the history of North Carolina foodways.

In 2009 I was awarded the Lonnie and Carol Poole Award for excellence in teaching. In 2012 I received the College of Humanities and Sciences teaching award and was named to the Academy of Outstanding Teachers at N.C. State University. In 2018 I was named a University Faculty Scholar.

I am proud of my graduate students, all of whom have completed significant MA or PhD theses and gone on to PhD programs or rewarding careers.

Graduate Advising


Melody Hunter-Pillion, “Masters of Our Own Domain: Oral Tradition Among African American Farmers, Fishers, and Landowners,” Ph.D. Candidate, Department of American Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


2023 Lizabeth Wardzinski, “A Model for the World: Tennessee Valley Authority and the Postwar World,” Ph.D. candidate, Architecture, NC State University

2022 Nicholas Serrano, “Landscape History of the Triangle Region, North Carolina,” Ph.D. candidate, Landscape Architecture, NC State University

2022 Lauren Vilbert, “Tourism’s Past, Present and Future on the Outer Banks,” Ph.D. candidate, Public History, NC State University (Co-chair)

2020 Laura Hepp Bradshaw, “Kilowatt Kingdom: Gender, Race, and Power in the Tennessee Valley, 1917-1958,” Ph.D, History, Carnegie Mellon University

2020 Andre Taylor, “Memory and History in the Expansion of Rice Cultivation from South Carolina into North Carolina,” MA, Public History (Co-chair)

2020 Angela Stiefbold, “Rural Character and Rural Economy: Preserving Farmland in Bucks County Pennsylvania, 1930-1990,” Ph.D, History, University of Cincinnati

2019 Sophia Webster, “Killer-Rescue Gene Drive for Population Replacement in the Dengue Vector Aedes Aegypti,” Ph.D., Entomology

2019 Megan Serr, “How to Become One of the Islanders: Assessing Farallones Island House Mice Colony Resistance to Secondary Establishers,” PhD., Zoology

2018 Dean Bruno, “A Place Called Home: Dispossession and Remembrance of a Central New York Landscape,” PhD, History, Vanderbilt University

2017 Cameron Mills, “College Men Go to War: The American University Union in Europe during the First World War,” M.A., History (Chair)

2017 Gabriel Zilnik, “Evolution of Insects in Agricultural Systems,” MS, Entomology

2016 Rachel Jacobson, “Raleigh’s Greenways and Racial Exclusion,” M.A. student, Public History (Co-chair)

2016 Charlton Brown, “Analysis of Wetland Communities along Historic Ditches in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina,” M.S., Forestry and Environmental Resources

2015 Madison Cates, “White Men Without Side-Arms: Moderation, Manhood, and the Politics of Civil Rights in North Carolina, 1960-1965,” M.A., History

2014 Stacy Roberts, “How We Have Forgotten: Chemical Strawberries and Their Archived Alternatives in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” M.A., History (Chair)

2014 Jesse Hall, “The Nation’s River: An Environmental History of the Potomac,” M.A., History (Chair)

2011 Shane Cruise, “Blighted People in a Blighted Place: Disease, Environment, and Slum Clearance in Winston-Salem, NC, 1880-1960,” M.A., History

2010 Laura Hepp Bradshaw, “Naturalized Citizens: Conservation, Gender, and the Tennessee Valley Authority during the New Deal,” M.A., History (Co-chair)

2009 Robert Paine Shapard, “Building an Inland Sea: Clarks Hill Lake on the Upper Savannah and the Twentieth-Century Lives, Land, and River Hidden by its Waters,” M.A., History (Chair)

2009 Zach Gillan, “Consumerism and Radical Protest in the 1960s: Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panthers, and the Diggers,” M.A., History

2008 Gabriel Lee, “Constructing the Outer Banks: Land Use, Management, and Meaning in the Creation of an American Place,” M.A., History (Chair)

2008 L. Dean Bruno, “’Once a Home, Now a Memory:’ Dispossession, Possession and Remembrance of the Landscape of the Former Seneca Army Depot,” M.A., History (Chair)

2008 April Grecho, “From Knowledge to Management: Assessing and communicating the efficacy of sustainable resource education programs in the U.S.,” Ph.D., Forestry and Environmental Resources

2008 Neil Shafer Oatsvall, “War on Nature, War on Bodies: The United States’ Chemical Defoliant Use During the Vietnam War and Its Consequences,” M.A., History (Chair)

2008 Andrea Gray, “Supper on the Trail: How Food and Provisions Shaped Nineteenth-Century Westward Migration,” M.A., History

2008 Leslie Erin Hawkins, “’I Am History, Don’t Destroy Please’: Three Gristmills and Their Communities in Wake County, North Carolina,” M.A., Public History

2007 Scott McDuffie, “James Lawson: Leading Architect and Educator of Nonviolence and Nonviolent Direct Action Protest Strategies During the Student Sit-in Movement of 1960,” M.A., History


Since 2022 – Advisory Board, Triangle Scholarly Communications Institute

2020-2024 – Vice President for Scholarly Programs, National Humanities Center

Since 2019 – Member of the Board, University of North Carolina Press

Since 2017 – Director, Science, Technology & Society program, NCSU

2016-2023 – Member of the Board, Forest History Society, Durham, NC

Since 2015 – Faculty affiliate, Southeast Climate Science Center, USGS/NCSU

2015-2020 – Archive of Agricultural Genetic Engineering and Society, NCSU

2015-2020 – Coordinator, Visual Narrative cluster, Chancellors Faculty Excellence Program, NCSU

2014-2020 –  Faculty affiliate, Center for Genetic Engineering and Society, NCSU

2012-2016 – Affiliate, Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, “Genetic Engineering and Society,” NCSU

Since 2011 – Digital Humanities Collaborative of North Carolina

2011-13 – Intellectual Entrepreneurship working group, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, NCSU

2007-15 – Faculty adviser, NC State University History Club

Since 2005 – Environmental Studies committee, NCSU

Since 2006 – Native American Studies committee, NCSU

Since 2004 – Departmental committees on curriculum, graduate admissions, budget, salary merit points, strategic planning, and research, as well as three successful search committees in the department, and co-chairing three in the Visual Narrative cluster

Since 2004 – served on 18 MA thesis committees in History, chairing 8; served on 23 MA committees in Public History; served on an MS committee in Forestry; served on PhD committees in Architecture, Biological Sciences, Entomology (2), Forestry, Landscape Architecture, Public History (co-chair), and three PhD committees at other institutions.

Publications & Commentary

In press – “Seed Oyster Inspection, Matsushima Bay, c. 1958,” with Kjell Ericson, Environmental History, January 2025.

2023 – “The Seed Oyster Inspectors: Labour and Power in Trans-Pacific Tidelands, 1945-1970s,” with Kjell Ericson, Pacific Circle July 2023

2022 – Robert R. Dunn, Monica C. Sanchez and Matthew Morse Booker, “Sweetness, Power, Yeasts and Entomo-terroir,” in Valérie Bienvenue and Nicholas Chare, eds. Animals, Plants and Afterimages: The Art and Science of Representing Extinction. New York: Berghahn Books, 2022.

2021 – Andersen, L.K., Abernathy, J.W., Berlinsky, D.L., Bolton, G., Booker, M.M., Borski, R.J., Brown, T., Cerino, D., Ciaramella, M., Clark, R.W., Frinsko, M.O., Fuller, S.A., Gabel, S., Green, B.W., Herbst, E., Hodson, R.G., Hopper, M.S., Kenter, L.W., Lopez, F., McGinty, A.S., Nash, B., Parker, M., Pigg, S., Rawles, S., Riley, K., Turano, M.J., Webster, C.D., Weirich, C., Won, E., Woods III, L.C., and Reading, B.J. The Status of Striped Bass Morone saxatilis as a Commercially Ready Species for U.S. Marine Aquaculture,” Journal of the World Aquaculture Society 2021 v.52 no.3 pp. 710-730.

2021 – E. Landis, A. Oliveiro, E. McKenney, L. Nichols, N. Kfoury, M. Biango-Daniels, L. Shell, A. Madden, L. Shapiro, S. Sakunala, K. Drake, A. Robbat, M. Booker, R. Dunn, N. Fierer, and B. Wolfe, “The Diversity and Function of Sourdough Starter Microbiomes,” eLife Sciences (26 January 2021) doi: 10.7554/eLife.61644.

2020 – M. Serr, R. Valdez, S. Barnhill-Dilling, J. Godwin, T. Kuiken, and Matthew Booker, “Scenario Analysis on the Use of Rodenticides and Sex-Biasing Gene Drives for the Removal of Invasive House Mice on Islands,” Biological Invasions (2 Jan. 2020)

2019 – Charles Ludington and Matthew Booker, eds. Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates (University of North Carolina Press)

2019 – “The Century-Old Origins of Contemporary Food Safety Debates,” in Booker and Ludington, eds. Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates (University of North Carolina Press)

2019 – “Sourdough Cultures,” Seeing the Woods Blog, Rachel Carson Center, Munich, Aug 29

2018 – “Before The Jungle: The Atlantic Origins of US Food Safety Regulation,” Global Environment: A Journal of Transdisciplinary History 11.1 (2018): 12-35.

2017 – “Resilience, Humility, and Picnics,” Humanities Moments, National Humanities Center

2017 – Matthew Booker and Kim Gilman, “Environmental Humanities,” in Andy Mink, ed. Humanities in Class: How to Think and Learn in the Humanities (National Humanities Center)

2017 – With Kim Gilman, “How to Think in the Environmental Humanites,” Humanities in Class, National Humanities Center

2015 – “The Uses and Limits of Local Food,” Think Global, Eat Local: Exploring FoodwaysRCC Perspectives 2015:1, Rachel Carson Center, Munich

2014 – H-Environment Roundtable Review, P. Garone, The Fall and Rise of the Wetlands of California’s Great Central ValleyH-Environment Roundtable Reviews 4: 10 (2014).

2014 – Blog post, “Why Did Americans Stop Eating Locally?” Making Tracks: A Blog of the Rachel Carson Center, LMU, Munich

2013 – Down By The Bay: San Francisco’s History Between the Tides (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press) (nominated for the 2013 Northern California Book Award) – reviewed in the American Historical ReviewEnvironmental HistoryPacific Historical Review, San Francisco Chronicle, and Sacramento Bee. Cited by articles in California HistoryThe Public Historian and San Francisco Estuary & Watershed Science.

2012 – “Visualizing San Francisco Bay’s Forgotten Past,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1(3) Fall 2012

2012 – Blog post, “Visualizing San Francisco Bay’s Forgotten Past,” Ant-Spider-Bee: Exploring the Digital Humanities, June 11, 2012

2010 – Matthew Booker, Michael De Groot, and Kathy Harris, “From Salt Ponds to Refuge in San Francisco Bay,” Spatial History Project, Stanford University, August 1, 2010

2009 – Michael De Groot and Matthew Booker, “The Struggle for Ownership of the San Francisco Bay Area, 1769-1972” Spatial History Project, Stanford University, August 28, 2009

2009 – Gabriel Lee, Alec Norton, Andrew Robichaud and Matthew Booker, “The Production of Space in San Francisco Bay: San Francisco Bay’s Atlantic Oyster Industry, 1869-1920s,” Spatial History Project, Stanford University, May 15, 2009

2009 – Matthew Booker and Alec Norton, “Visualizing Sea Level Rise and Early Bay Habitation, 6000BP to Present: The Emeryville Shellmound,” Spatial History Project, Stanford University, March, 2009

2009 – Allen Roberts and Matthew Booker, “Shell Mounds in San Francisco Bay Area,” Spatial History Project, Stanford University, February, 2009

2008 – Gabriel Lee, Alec Norton, Andrew Robichaud and Matthew Booker, “Morgan Oyster Company’s Bay Holdings, 1930”, Spatial History Project, Stanford University, December 10, 2008

2008 – Gabriel Lee, Alec Norton, Andrew Robichaud and Matthew Booker, “San Mateo County Bay Ownership, 1877-1927”, Spatial History Project, Stanford University, December 1, 2008

2007 – “Legacy of the Gold Rush,” Bill Lane Center for the Study of the American West, Stanford University

2006 – “Primary Sources in the Environmental History of San Francisco Bay: An Online Archive,” Bill Lane Center for the Study of the American West, Stanford University

2006 – “Oyster Growers and Oyster Pirates in San Francisco Bay,” Pacific Historical Review 75(1) February 2006: 63-88. (Winner, W. Turrentine Jackson Award, American Historical Association-Pacific Coast Branch)

2004-2017 – Book reviews in Environmental HistoryH-Environment, Journal of American History, Journal of the History of BiologyPacific Historical ReviewWestern Historical Quarterly, and Wetlands: The Journal of the Society of Wetlands Scientists


Ph.D. History Stanford University 2005

M.S. Environmental Studies University of Oregon 1997

B.A. Latin American History University of California at Berkeley 1991

Area(s) of Expertise

Global aquaculture, urban history, environmental history, agricultural history, food history


View all publications 


Date: 04/15/17 - 4/15/18
Amount: $15,000.00
Funding Agencies: Burroughs Wellcome Fund

In the United States, as in many parts of the world, we face a crisis in terms of food. The quality of diets continues to decrease even as the quantity of food available increases. At the same, we face major challenges in terms of engaging the public in science. Scientific literacy has, at best, stagnated even as the proportion of challenges that require a scientifically literate public is increasing. A major opportunity exists at the nexus of these two problems if we are able to educate the public (and children in particular) about science through the stories of food. Here we have a simple proposal. We will tell the stories of the science of food through an audio guide that can also be read as as e-book (or in the longer term, through our ongoing partnership with the University of Chicago Press, coffee table books). The guide will tell the stories of particular ingredients in foods in light of their evolutionary past, cultural history, natural history, chemistry and physics. Through exciting stories, it will simultaneously engage a broad public in science, history, and nutrition. The book will begin in the kitchen and then spill out into the yard and the supermarket.

Date: 08/15/15 - 12/31/17
Amount: $202,768.00
Funding Agencies: US Geological Survey (USGS)

This project brings cultural resource management into regional and local decision contexts for climate change planning. Cultural resources hold multiple and diverse values to local communities, visitors and the public. Yet, climate change threatens many coastal cultural resources and developing strategies for climate adaptation or mitigation is needed. Before adaptation decisions are made (move, stabilize or document a resource), it is critical to understand the types of cultural resources on the southeastern coastal landscape so that decisions can be made with information on (a) the extent to which a resource type may be lost from the landscape (vulnerability) and (b) the degree to which a resource is rare within the landscape (uniqueness). This project develops a cultural resource vulnerability index to assess the vulnerability and uniqueness of cultural resource types in coastal landscapes within the southeastern United States. The index will be used in a pilot study of planning for cultural resources at Plymouth Village, a historic site within Cape Lookout National Seashore that will also be informed by the perceptions and values of local communities and the visiting public. This pilot study will enable evaluations of the usefulness of region planning tools in local decision-making.

Date: 09/01/16 - 5/31/17
Amount: $32,000.00
Funding Agencies: National Humanities Center

It is a commonplace that American food is industrial and placeless. Both producer and consumer are divorced from their environment: The former by machines and chemicals, the latter by distance and ignorance. The result is that prepared foods like hot dogs and hamburgers are supposed to be the all-American foods (Schlosser 2001). If these industrial foods have a history at all, it is imaginary: At some hazy point in the past industrial food overcame regional diets of locally produced foods. In this telling of events, industrial food seems regrettable and inexorable, but it is finally inevitable. This story isn??????????????????t historical. Rather, it treats human beings as passive recipients who simply consume what they are given. This is at odds with generations of humanist scholarship that finds agency in all sorts of everyday actions. This has been particularly true in urban histories (Kasson 1978, Duis 1998). The story about modern food especially ignores the complicated and remarkable evolution of food production in the age of the city. From the 1870s to 1920s, new migrants, new kinds of work, and expanding cities transformed who was an American, what they did, and where they lived (Wiebe 1967). Outstanding existing scholarship describes how technological systems, industrialization, urbanization and migration transformed both nearby and distant landscapes, converting agriculture into a commodity industry and supplier of factories (Cronon 1991, Fitzgerald 2003, White 2011). That work, however, has less often considered food production within urban areas, despite the crucial role it played into the 20th century (McNeill 2000, Kurlansky 2006, Douglas 2013). This is a book about oysters in the industrial city. Oysters are important because looking at their history in America provides a window onto reasons for the transformation of the American diet, the growth of American cities, and the changing conceptions of food safety that were a result of industrial growth.

Date: 07/01/06 - 6/30/07
Amount: $5,333.00
Funding Agencies: NCSU Faculty Research & Professional Development Fund

This proposal supports an environmental history of San Francisco Bay from the time of American settlement to key events in 1972. This will be the first comprehensive scholarly treatment of what is both the largest contiguous tidal wetlands in the American West and a key urban and economic hub. The author is well equipped to carry out this investigation thanks to training in both ecological science and history; the project will contribute to important research questions from both disciplines and to the interdisciplinary questions motivating the middle ground between the humanities and sciences. The site of investigation is also relevant to North Carolina because many of the historical processes occurred simultaneously in North Carolina estuaries.

View all grants