What is Geography?
with Dr. Juanita Sundberg

Alumnus John Thistle’s Scholarly Publishing Recognized


Photo by Raquel Larson

Photo by Raquel Larson

UBC Geography alumnus John Thistle (PhD 2009) published his first book, Resettling the Range: Animals, Ecologies, and Human Communities in Early British Columbia in 2015. The book explores the ecology and history of BC interior’s grasslands and the people who lived there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Since its publication, the book has received the Basil Stuart-Stubbs Book Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Book on British Columbia , the K.D Srivastava Book Prize for Excellence in Scholarly Publishing, the Henry A. Wallace Award for best book on agricultural history outside the United States, and was shortlisted for the Roderick Haig Brown, British Columbia Book Prize.

UBC Press

UBC Press (sample chapter)

From 2010 to 2016, John Thistle served as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Research Associate at the Labrador Institute at Memorial University. He is currently an Assistant Teaching Professor at University of Victoria.

Craig A. Jones Wins 2016 Guggenheim Dissertation Award


Congratulations to PhD Candidate, Craig A. Jones, for winning The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Dissertation Fellowship this year.

Craig’s dissertation is on The war lawyers: US, Israel and the spaces of targeting.

Craig A. Jones Wins 2016 Western Regional 3MT Competition


Craig at the 3MT

Congratulations to PhD Candidate, Craig A. Jones, for winning the Western Regional 3 Minute Thesis Competition this year! Craig presented “The War Lawyers” on April 29th at UBC Okanagan campus.

Craig will now move onto the National 3 Minute Thesis Competition where he will compete against 11 other finalists.

Human Geography 101 Workshop


Photo by Marc Tadaki

On the 22nd of April, physical and human geography grads came together to undertake a unique experiment in the form of a ’Human Geography 101’ workshop.

The workshop, organized by the newly minted Geographic Identity Committee, was conceived as a way to foster intellectual and social exchange between physical and human geography grads, a need which has been clearly identified by grads and faculty in the Geography Department. The workshop was the first of a series of events planned by the Committee, with a long term aspiration of fostering collaborative intellectual enrichment and solidarity in the department. Through championing these and other activities, we hope to support the strengthening of intellectual and social bonds between grads, to explore common interests and potential applications of their work, and to generate support for more institutional scale engagement with the topic of geographic identity.

The workshop followed an ‘improv’ type format, and involved 4 ‘games’ to explore human geography concepts, key figures/people, and words. 22 grad students came along and contributed to the workshop, roughly split between physical and human geography. We learned about the dispossession of the lion prides in the Lion King by the hyena packs; how Judith Butler probably feels about boy bands; what Foucault got up to in his spare time; that Richard Florida may be the only geographer who can afford to buy us a new building; about performativity, assemblage theory, post structuralist earthworms, and hegemony, amongst other things. Although the intended audience was primarily physical geographers, it provided an opportunity for human geographers to discuss the finer details of particular concepts and offer varying viewpoints and explanations. A major surprise of planning was possibly that the physical geographer organizers thought that their might be such a thing as ‘a definition’ of many of these core concepts!


Photo by Cam Hunter

Most importantly: 1) people had fun and 2) based on feedback, it opened up many eyes to the complexity, range and rigor of the research our human geography colleagues are conducting in our department. We look forward to ‘Physical Geography 101’ (although a dating game with famous physical geographers may be a bit dry!), and to continued opportunities to explore areas of overlapping interest. We welcome ideas from any and all who want to support identity- and solidarity-building in the Department!

The Geographic Identity Committee
 Cam Hunter, James Rhatigan, Katriina O’Kane, Kelsey Everard, Leonora King, Lucy MacKenzie, Marc Tadaki, Max Ritts

Collaborative Graduate Seminar: “Researching Cities”


UBC/UCLA seminar participants meet at the White Mountain research station (photo credit: Idaliya Grigoryeva)

This past term, graduate students from UBC and UCLA were involved in an experimental seminar, “Researching cities,” coordinated by Jamie Peck and by Helga Leitner and Eric Sheppard at UCLA. The UBC and UCLA seminar groups connected each week by way of a video conference link, usually for around two hours, ably facilitated at the UBC end by Bret Petersen (and by a small army of technicians at UCLA!). The joint work of the two groups during the term included the discussion of readings from a shared syllabus; the presentation of a series of “keywords” from the field of urban studies; and preparations for term papers based on the methodological deconstruction and constructive critique of significant monographs in the field, some of which were to be written collaboratively.

The joint seminar culminated in a workshop at the University of California’s White Mountain research station, near Bishop, CA, at the base of the Sierra Nevadas. The accommodations may have been a little Spartan for some metropolitan tastes, but the welcome from the research station staff was extremely warm, and the mountain setting was truly spectacular. Alas, there was relatively little time to take all of this in, as a busy three-day work program included the presentation of methodological essays from each of the participants, along with comments from peer discussants. Plans were also laid for an edited book project, provisionally entitled Urban Studies Inside/Out, based on the collective work of the group.

UBC-based graduate students involved in the seminar were geographers Joe Daniels, Nina Ebner, Ida Grigoryeva, Tom Howard, Kyle Loewen, Mikael Omstedt, and Sage Ponder, Prajna Rao from SCARP, Devra Waldman from Kinesiology, and a visiting graduate student in urban planning from UCL, Joe Penny. The 14 graduate students from UCLA included geographers, anthropologists, and urban planners. Should the effort to obtain a book contract prove successful, the collaborative work of the two seminar groups will extend well into next year.


Tom Howard acquires transferrable skills (photo credit: Jamie Peck)

Recap by Professor Jamie Peck

Syrian Refugee Crisis Teach In

On April 13th, UBC Geography’s Equity and Diversity Committee hosted their first Teach In, an educational forum on a complex issue: the Syrian Refugee Crisis. The Teach In included the departmental expertise of Derek Gregory, Dan Hiebert, Siobhan McPhee, and Craig A. Jones.

Professor Juanita Sundberg, Chair of the Equity and Diversity Committee, introduced the teach in as an opportunity for our community to discuss and learn about bigger, topical issues.


Professor Derek Gregory began the teach in by giving an introductory run through of the political situation in Syria, using the 2011 Arab Spring (popular transregional democratic struggles) as a starting point to the current conflict. Though there is internal warfare between the government, rebel forces, and ISIS, Syria has also become the stage for a proxy war for many different groups such as US/NATO and Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey. Unlike many other terrorist organizations, ISIS had great territorial plans with an elaborate state council and goals for creating a stable economy.


Professor Dan Hiebert presented on Canadian institutional perspectives and activities in response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis. He shed light on the resettlement plan of refugees, of their journey from different refugee camps, how they are identified and processed overseas, to Canada and then resettled in different Canadian cities. Some concerns that have come up include the fast pace of settlement and its impact on certain services, larger families than expected, less official languages proficiency than expected, and lower levels of formal education than expected.


PhD Candidate, Craig A. Jones, explored the precarious healthcare situation in Syria through facts and statistics: Syria’s life expectancy has plummeted from 70 to 55 years; medical infrastructures are often intended targets of attacks; only 50% of hospitals are fully functioning. In 2011 there were 5000 doctors in Aleppo; in 2013 there were 36.

Craig also discussed the constant presence of healthcare during the refugee resettlement process; health conditions are often unreported and many are concerned about the long term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.


Dr. Siobhán McPhee discussed the complicated process of forming a G5 (group of five) private sponsorship and selecting a family, as well as the cultural misunderstandings that arise when the refugees arrive. Their G5 was finally matched with Ali and his brother who is still in Beirut. Ali was able to join us for the teach in and speak to the group about his journey from Syria to Canada. He currently has one brother in Saskatoon who had been selected for resettlement much earlier with his wife and children; his mother and sisters are still in their hometown.

Ali talked about life before the civil war, before the 2011 Arab Spring. He described pre-war Syria as one of the most stable country in the Middle East at the time. When the conflict started, he went to Damascus because it seemed safer; men left often to avoid being forced into the army or ISIS. From Damascus, he and a group of 50 escaped to Lebanon. They walked through the mountains, travelling at night and sleeping during the day to avoid detection. They walked for 20 days, eating only once a day to conserve supplies.

Beirut was overwhelmed by refugees. They registered with the UN and approached different embassies. The vetting and application process took 1.5 years in total; the brothers had considered the highly dangerous option of sea crossing when life in Beirut became too difficult. Fortunately, Ali’s brother’s family was selected and Ali’s application went through not too long after and he arrived in Vancouver in late 2015.

The teach in ended with a slideshow of photos Ali took during his journey as well as informal discussion among the attendees and presenters. The overall event was a great success in the department that brought Geography community together in an effort to learn more about this current global crisis on both a macro and micro level.

Sophie Webber, EGSG Dissertation Award Winner,


Congratulations to our recent graduate, Sophie Webber (PhD ’15), for winning the Best Dissertation award in Economic Geography from the Economic Geography Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers! Her winning dissertation was titled, “Adaptation Ecologies: Circuits of Climate Change Finance, Policy and Science in the Pacific Islands.”

Craig A. Jones, Winner of UBC’s Three Minute Thesis 2016 Competition


Congratulations to PhD student Craig A. Jones for winning UBC’s Three Minute Thesis competition this year! His presentation, The War Lawyers, won First Place and People’s Choice out of 100 participating graduate students’ presentations. Craig will now advance to the Western regional competition at UBC-Okanagan at the end of April.

Watch his presentation here.