Brian DeLay


Preston Hotchkis Chair in the History of the United States 

I’m a scholar of 18th- and 19th-century North America, specializing in transnational, borderlands, and Native American histories. Most of my writing explores connections between U.S., Latin American, and Indigenous histories in order to better understand power and inequality in the Western Hemisphere.

My first book, War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War (Yale University Press), recovers the forgotten, transnational story of how Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, Navajos and other Indigenous peoples shaped the transformative era of the U.S.-Mexican War. War of a Thousand Deserts won best book prizes from the Latin American Studies Association, the Western History Association, and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, and was a finalist for the Francis Parkman Prize. I am the editor of North American Borderlands (Routledge), and co-author of the U.S. history textbooks Experience History and U.S./A Narrative History (McGraw-Hill).

I’ve published articles, book chapters, and essays on variety of subjects. I’ve argued that historians of foreign relations should center Indigenous polities in histories of international relations and empire in 19th-century North America, and that, for most of the century, relations between Native nations dominated the continent’s international system. Other topics I’ve explored in my writing include the transnational context of John Singleton Copley’s famous painting Watson and the Shark; discourses of belonging and patterns of conflict between Navajos and New Mexicans; similarities in the violence of borderland Mexico’s 21st-century drug war and the borderland violence of the 19th-century; the reaction of the United States to the French intervention in Mexico; white supremacy and the Second Amendment; the dependence of the arms industry on the U.S. government and its taxpayers; and the myths of continuity that gun-rights activists deploy to attack firearms regulations in the Bruen era. 

I’m now working on three interconnected projects about the history of the international arms trade. The first is a book called Aim at Empire: American Revolutions through the Barrel of a Gun, 1750-1825. The book explains how the international arms trade made anticolonial rebellion a practical possibility in British North America; how arms dealers from the newly-independent United States equipped the Haitian Revolution and the Spanish American Wars for Independence; and how privileged control over war material empowered U.S. empire in the trans-Appalachian West. Aim at Empire will be published by W.W. Norton in 2024. Part of the argument of the book is previewed here. The second project is another book under contract with W.W. Norton: Means of Destruction: Guns, Freedom, and Domination in the Americas before World War II. Advance material from Means of Destruction has appeared here, here, and here. My work on both books has been funded by fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Stanford Humanities Center, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies.  

The third project-in-progress is a data project. For the past several years I have been working with a team of student researchers to quantify the global arms trade from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the outbreak of World War I. The vast majority of firearms sold and used around the world in the long nineteenth-century originated with five major producers/exporters: Britain, France, Belgium, the United States, and Germany. The Project on Arms Trade History reconstructs the contours of the global arms trade in this era by extracting data from annual customs reports produced by these countries, counting everything from cannons to percussion caps. Once complete, PATH will be made publicly available as a website enabling scholars anywhere in the world to track the global movement of guns, ammunition, and artillery between 1814-1914 at multiple scales.

The United States has a tradition of regulating firearms in the name of public safety, one that stretches back to the early colonial era. Drawing on my understanding of that tradition, I have worked as an expert witness and drafted declarations on the history of gun technology and regulation for state and local authorities defending gun-safety laws in Washington D.C., Oregon, Illinois, Washington State, California, New Jersey, Delaware, and Boulder County, CO. 

Since 2014, I have served alongside historians Steven Hahn and Amy Dru Stanley as series editor for the University of Pennsylvania Press book series America in the Nineteenth Century.

At Berkeley, I teach classes on U.S., Latin American, and Native American history. In 2023-24, I’ll be teaching a lecture class on Encounter & Conquest in the Indigenous Americas; a senior thesis seminar; and a graduate research seminar on North American topics before 1900.

I have had the privilege of advising wonderful Ph.D. students working on topics that span the continent and range from the early colonial period through the twentieth century. I’m particularly interested in advising students who are interested in the Age of Revolutions, borderlands, Native American, and/or transnational history; who are more curious than judgmental about the past; and who care about writing. With Mark Brilliant, Hidetaka Hirota, and Bernadette Pérez, I co-direct Berkeley West, a dissertation group for Berkeley Ph.D. students working on the history of the North American West, (very) broadly conceived.


BA: University of Colorado, Boulder, 1994
MA: Harvard University, 1998
PhD: Harvard University, 2004

Research Interests

  • The Age of Revolutions
  • Firearms History
  • U.S. Empire
  • American West
  • 19th-century Americas
  • transnational history
  • US-Mexico Borderlands
  • Native American History
  • International Arms Trade


Preston Hochkiss Chair in the History of the United States, University of California, Berkeley, 2016-present

Professor, University of California, Berkeley, 2023-Present

Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley, 2010-2023

Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley, 2009-2010

Assistant Professor, University of Colorado, Boulder, 2004-2009

Lecturer, Harvard University, Spring 2004

Select Publications

"The Myth of Continuity in American Gun Culture," 35k-word article forthcoming in the California Law Review 113:1 (Feb. 2025)

"The Arms Trade & American Revolutions," American Historical Review 128:3 (Sept., 2023), 1144-1181.

“Foreign Relations between Indigenous Polities, 1820-1900,” in Kristin Hoganson and Jay Sexton, eds., The Cambridge History of America and the World, Vol 2: 1812-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 2022), 387-411.

Co-author with James West Davidson, William E. Gienapp, Christine Leigh Heyrman, Mark H. Lytle, and Michael B. Stoff, Experience History: Interpreting America’s Past [Formerly Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic], McGraw-Hill (2019).  *Concise Edition: US/A Narrative History (2022).

How the U.S. Government Created and Coddled the Arms Industry,” The Conversation, October 2017

“Indian Polities, Empire, and Nineteenth-Century American Foreign Relations”Diplomatic History 39:5 (December 2015), 927-42.

“Watson and the Shark,” chapter in Brooke Blower and Mark Philip Bradley, eds., The Familiar Made Strange: American Icons and Artifacts after the Transnational Turn, Cornell University Press, 2015

“Blood Talk: Violence and Belonging in the Navajo-New Mexican Borderland,” in Juliana Barr and Edward Countryman, eds., Contested Spaces of Early America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. (See Source Notes here and Source Data here.)

"How Not to Arm a State: American Guns and the Crisis Of Governance In Mexico, Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries" [24th Annual W.P. Whitsett Lecture], Southern California Quarterly 95:1 (Spring 2013), pp. 5-23.

“Oportunismo, ansiedad, idealismo: los impulsos Estadunidenses durante la intervención Francesa en México,” in Jean Meyer, ed., Memorias del Simposio Internacional 5 de Mayo, El Colegio de Puebla, 2013, pp 269-288.

"North American Borderlands," edited by Brian DeLay Editor, North American Borderlands. Routledge, 2012.
"War of a Thousand Deserts" by Brian DeLay War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008 [paperback, 2009].

“19th Century Lessons for Today’s Drug War Policies,”The Chronicle Review, Tuesday, July 28, 2009

“Independent Indians and the U.S.-Mexican War,”American Historical Review 112 (Feb., 2007), 35-68.

The Wider World of the Handsome Man: Southern Plains Indians Invade Mexico, 1830-1846,” Journal of the Early Republic27 (March, 2007), 83-113 

Awards & Honors

Vandervort Prize for Outstanding Article in Military History, Society for Military History, 2024

Fulbright Distinguished Lecturer, Doshisha American Studies Seminar (Kyoto), 2014

Bryce Wood Book Award for the outstanding book on Latin America in the social sciences and humanities published in English, Latin American Studies Association, 2010

Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies, 2010-2011

Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer, 2008-2011

W. Turrentine Jackson Prize for best first book, Western History Association, 2009

Robert M. Utley Book Award, Western History Association, 2009

Southwest Book Award, sponsored by the Border Regional Library Association, 2009

James Broussard Best First Book Prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, 2008

Norris and Carol Hundley Best Book Award, Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, 2008 [co-winner]

The Sons of the Republic of Texas Summerfield G. Roberts Best Book Award, 2008

Finalist, Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, 2008

Bolton-Cutter Award for best borderlands article, Western History Association, 2008

Robert F. Heizer Prize for the best article in the field of ethnohistory, 2008

CLAH Article Prize, Conference on Latin American History, 2008

Stuart Bernath Article Prize, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, 2008

Phi Alpha Theta/Westerners International Prize for Best Dissertation, 2005

Harold K. Gross Prize from Harvard University for the dissertation “demonstrating the greatest promise of a distinguished career in historical research,” 2004

Grants & Fellowships

John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, 2019-2020

Stanford Humanities Center Fellowship, 2019-2020

American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, 2017-2018

Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, 2013-2014

UC Humanities Research Fellowship Grant, 2013-2014

UC Berkeley CORE Research Bridging Grant, 2012-2014

Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies, 2010-2011

Donald T. Harrington Fellowship, UT Austin, 2009-2010 (Declined)

University of Colorado Graduate Committee on the Arts and Humanities Research Grant, 2008

American Philosophical Society / British Academy Fellowship, 2008

Junior Faculty Development Award, University of Colorado, 2007

Bill and Rita Clements Research Fellowship for the Study of Southwestern Americana, Full Year, Clements Center, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX, 2005-2006

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Full Year, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, 2005-2006 (Declined)

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Full Year, Newberry Library, Chicago, IL, 2005-2006 (Declined)

Packard Foundation Dissertation Finishing Grant, 2002-2003

American Philosophical Society, Philips Fund Grant for Native American Research, 2001

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