David Kneas, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and School of Earth, Ocean and Environment

lab headshot(PhD, Anthropology and Environmental Studies, Yale University, 2014)

My research explores the political and cultural dimensions of resource environments, and the ways material resources are imagined, controlled, and contested across temporal periods. My first area of research centers on an ongoing conflict over a proposed copper mine in the Intag region of northwestern Ecuador. Situating the dispute in relation to  histories of geological exploration and agrarian settlement, this work explores the origins of both resource potential and local opposition to mining. Aspects of this research have featured in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Ethnos, Engaging Science, Technology, & Society, and American Anthropologist. A second area of research analyzes representations of South American nature and environmental change within US public culture, and has included publications in the Journal of Latin American Geography and Environmental History. In a new avenue of research, I examine the knowledge and expertise that help sustain the global mining industry, with a focus on the junior exploration companies and speculative investment. While scholarship on mining has tended to focus on sites of resource extraction and large mining corporations, this project explores the cultural frameworks and ritual practices that underpin how junior companies present themselves, as well as the kinds of knowledge that different actors use to assess the junior sector.

Conor Harrison, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and School of Earth, Ocean and Environment

(PhD, Geography, University of North Carolina, 2014).

24993109_10215296239424048_1486985388969616182_nMy research examines the relationship between energy and society, with a particular focus on political economy and power relations. My current research project traces the flows of investment capital, expertise, and technology in the ongoing energy transition to renewable energy in the Caribbean, portions of which have been published in Energy Research and Social Science and the Journal of Latin American Geography. My past research has traced the historical development of electricity supply systems and markets in the American South. This work focused on the interactions of an emerging networked infrastructure with contrasting ideas and methods of financing, governance, and ideologies of race in the American South between 1900 and 1980. Previously I examined energy poverty in rural North Carolina. Portions of this work have been published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Geoforum, and Local Environment. I also have an interest in the historical-geographical racial politics of Columbia, SC. I am working with Dr. Caroline Nagel (Department of Geography) and graduate and undergraduate students to map and reproduce historical census data with an eye towards examining questions of race in Columbia between 1880 and 1940.

Jessica Barnes, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and School of Earth, Ocean and Environment

Jessie Photo(PhD, Sustainable Development, Columbia University, 2010).

My work focuses on the everyday practices of resource use and environmental change in the Middle East. Broadly, I am interested in how societies interact with their environments and the political dynamics, social relations, materials, and technologies that both shape and are shaped by these interactions. My research employs ethnographic methods to understand human-environment relationships and is anchored in a solid comprehension of environmental processes. I have three main topical areas of interest: water, climate change, and food. My first book, Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt (Duke University Press, 2014) is an ethnographic study of water and the politics surrounding its use. In the book, I argue that Egypt’s water is not a given object of management but rather is made as a resource through everyday practices, which take place across multiple scales. In subsequent work, I have explored the intersections of climate change, water, and agriculture. Publications in this area include a co-edited collection of anthropological essays on climate change with Michael Dove, entitled Climate Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives on Climate Change (Yale University Press, 2015). I am currently completing a book titled, Staple Security: Bread and Wheat in Egypt (forthcoming, Duke University Press). This book examines efforts to access sufficient, quality bread, from the scale of the Egyptian nation through to that of an individual household, as quotidian acts of staple security.

Joshua Grace, Associate Professor, Department of History

Grace head shot(PhD, History, Michigan State University, 2013)

My work sits at the intersection of African social and cultural history, Science and Technology Studies, and the history of development. My book, African Motors: Automobility and the History of Development in Tanzania, 1860s to 2015 (peer reviewed and under contract with Duke University Press) establishes deep histories of African mechanical creativity and competency with automobiles, one of the most important technologies of the twentieth-century. Using oral histories, archives from Tanzania and the United Kingdom, and my own experience as a repair apprentice, the book shows how a tool of empire quickly became an African technology at the hands of variety of African users, including mechanics, drivers, oil traders, and passengers. The book thus provides African-centered histories not just of the car, but also of roads, urban transport infrastructure, and oil trading—a suite of systems often called, automobility. Most development theorists have approached these systems as Western, and consequently, distinct from African histories of technology. The book illustrates that the twenty-first century Tanzanian automobility visible on streets today grew out of nineteenth-century caravan mobilities and was given form by men and women who became car experts by migrating to towns. Formally uneducated, their informal spaces and pedagogies challenge conventional approaches to “knowledge as power” in the history of development. I am currently working on two other projects on the technopolitics of austerity and on technological histories of sustainability.

Thomas Lekan, Professor, Department of History

(PhD, History, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1999)s200_thomas.lekan

My work focuses on European environmental history and the global dimensions of nature and wildlife conservation, ecotourism, and green imperialism; comparative urban and regional planning history; and the environmental humanities. Publications include Imagining the Nation in Nature: Landscape Preservation and German Identity, 1885-1945 (Harvard, 2004) and the co-edited volumes Germany’s Nature: Cultural Landscapes and Environmental History (Rutgers, 2005) and Whose Anthropocene: Revisiting Dipesh Chakrabarty’s “Four Theses” (Rachel Carson Center, 2016). My current book manuscript, Last Refuge: A “Strange German” Quest to Save the Serengeti, investigates the work of Bernhard Grzimek, Germany’s most important twentieth-century conservationist. The book examines the tensions between global ambition and local place-making during the mid-century expansion of national parks, nature tourism, and wildlife television. I am also working on a collaborative project, “baselining nature,” on environmental baselines.

Magda Stawkowski, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology

(PhD, Anthropology, University of Colorado, 2014)IMG_0016

I research the political, economic, and socio-cultural aftermaths of Soviet nuclear testing in Kazakhstan. Specifically, my current ethnographic work focuses on illness experiences of indigenous Kazakh communities, their health awareness, and conceptions of human rights. My scholarship is historically situated and engages interdisciplinary approaches including critical medical anthropology and science, technology, and society studies to analyze how political economic processes, geopolitical change, environmental crises, and knowledge production in the global health system affect local communities. While my research is geared towards the afterlives of nuclear testing, it also adds to crucial debates over the uncertainties of human radiation exposure brought to global attention after the disaster of 2011 that struck Fukushima, Japan, as well as broad issues of security and survival in the age of the Anthropocene. Speaking to the theme of the Anthropocene, I am currently starting a new collaborative project with the Danish Institute for International Studies that critically examines the questions of security, survival, and social fallout at the former atomic proving grounds in Kazakhstan, the Marshall Islands, and French Polynesia. My work has been published in American Ethnologist, Culture, Theory and Critique, and The Journal of the History of Biology, among others.

Monica Patrice Barra, Assistant Professor, School of Earth, Ocean, and Environment and Department of Anthropology 

(PhD, Anthropology, City University of New York, 2018)

IMG_8236 (1)My research focuses on the ways racial inequalities and geographies are forged in and through scientific knowledge and practices, racial histories, and transformations and of physical environments with a particular focus on North America. My current book project, Good Sediment, examines these topics through an ethnography of land loss that considers the complicated ways scientists and residents conceptualize space, water, land and sediment in the context of historic and contemporary race relations. This work is theoretically situated in work on black geographies and histories of racial formations in the U.S., the political ecologies of the plantation, critical science studies, and environmental anthropology. Research among these groups has grown into collaborations with engineers, ecologists, fishermen, and other coastal residents to create environmental models that bring together scientific and traditional environmental knowledge. This work is aimed at democratizing scientific expertise by integrating the knowledge and values of communities most directly exposed to climate change into cutting-edge scientific research environmental restoration.

Meredith DeBoom, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography

(PhD, Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, 2018)DeBoom Photo South Africa

I seek to better understand the roles that natural resources play in political processes, from nationalism, place-making, and conflict to debates over rights, distribution, and development. I’m particularly interested in the politics and geopolitics of natural resource extraction and development in southern Africa. My research to date has analyzed the (geo)political, ecological, and developmental implications of Chinese investments in uranium mining in Namibia. I’m currently developing two additional projects. The first will focus on the multi-scalar political geographies of marine extractive projects, including debates over marine mining and its implications for the “blue economy.” The second project will investigate how Africans are engaging with the idea of the “Chinese development model” to pursue their own political, environmental, and economic goals. I’m particularly interested in the implications of China’s rising influence for debates over human rights and development in late-liberation contexts like South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.

Dean Hardy, Assistant Professor, School of Earth, Ocean, and Environment and Department of Geography

(PhD Integrative Conservation and Geography, University of Georgia, 2016)

dean-in-marsh-profileMy training and education span from marine sciences to human geography. As an “integrative” geographer trained to work across ways of knowing socio-environmental challenges, my research investigates landscapes as socio-natural, drawing on environmental justice studies, political ecology, hazards geography, and critical race theory. Broadly, my research examines the causes and consequences of vulnerability to climate change through an integrative approach. In most of my research I apply an integrative research design; in other words, one that employs mixed methods (e.g., spatial analyses, interviews, participant observation, etc.) and plural epistemologies (i.e., ways of knowing). In my work, I combine critical race theory on the socio-historical processes that shape race relations (a.k.a. “racial formations”) with socio-ecological studies that conceptualize society and nature as mutually produced to show how racial formations are always socio-ecological. As part of conducting anti-racist, community-based social science, I am an advisory board member to the Cornelia Walker Bailey Program on Land and Agriculture, an organization that seeks “to address important questions on the history, present status, and future of agriculture, property politics, and related issues” in a sea island community.

Robert Kopack, Full-Time Faculty Member, Department of Geography

(PhD Geography, University of Toronto, 2020)


My research looks at the legacies of defense spending and defense infrastructure with a particular focus on closure and remediation projects, cultural-environmental histories, social justice, and political economy. My doctoral research, from which I developed these interests, was situated in several closed and secret cities in Kazakhstan that were built in the mid 1950s to facilitate Soviet military projects in space and rocket technologies. My current work is oriented towards two overlapping areas: 1) Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) in the United States and Canada and 2) the increasing commercialization of the (global) space industry. My concerns with both of these areas are the unequal distribution of risk in the context of environmental harms and the institutional secrecy underpinning the practical and legal aspects of lands use.

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