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Introducing the Canada Research Chair in Geospatial Humanities

UPEI celebrates the five-year appointment of Dr. Josh MacFadyen within the ACLC
| Research

The University of Prince Edward Island celebrated the appointment of its newest Canada Research Chair at a ceremony today. Dr. Josh MacFadyen becomes the Canada Research Chair in Geospatial Humanities in UPEI’s Faculty of Arts. Over the five years of the appointment, Dr. MacFadyen will use new techniques and multidisciplinary approaches to examine historical transitions of food and energy in Canada as well as their impacts.

“It is an honour to be back at my alma mater and very exciting to be a faculty member in the new Applied Communication, Leadership, and Culture program,” said Dr. MacFadyen. “The Canada Research Chair offers a unique platform for training and research, the region has robust historical and geospatial communities, and PEI has become a nexus for people interested in how food systems become more—or less—resilient in the face of threats like climate change. PEI has been mapped more than most jurisdictions; during the 1960s it became a focal point for federal projects like the Canada Land Inventory and the world’s first Geographic Information System (GIS). As such, PEI is an ideal place for historians to develop new geospatial research, and the CRC allows us to examine bigger questions such as how policy impacts land use and livelihoods in modern societies.”

Within the Faulty of Arts, the Canada Research Chair in Geospatial Humanities will reside in the Applied Communication, Leadership, and Culture (ACLC) program. The ACLC is defined by its focus on the transferability of the written, oral and visual communication skills, the critical thinking, and the cultural awareness acquired during a Liberal Arts education to the world beyond academia.

“Dr. MacFadyen’s strong digital humanities skill set and passion for research have already proven to be invaluable assets in our program,” said Lisa Chilton, director of the ACLC program at UPEI. “Students who work with him gain inspiration to explore new ways of using computers to understand and convey information. We are thrilled he has joined our team!”

This chair presents an exciting opportunity for students. Students working under the chair will study the environmental history and historical geography of Atlantic Canada. Much of their work will focus on the history of food and agriculture in Canada, including ways the modern food system has shaped our relationships with animals and the land. The transition to this kind of system occurred relatively recently on PEI; this presents an opportunity to map the causes and impacts of the transition using the tools of the geospatial humanities.

“This Canada Research Chair is a feather in the cap of the Faculty of Arts, and it presents many exciting opportunities for our students,” said Dr. Katherine Gottschall-Pass, interim Vice-President Academic and Research at UPEI. “History comes alive when we can make real connections to the physical place where they happened. Dr. MacFadyen’s talents and skills to examine the historical transitions of this place will help us all better understand our island home.”

As chair, Dr. MacFadyen will use new techniques and multidisciplinary approaches to examine Canadian food and energy transitions. The energy transition from wood to coal is widely considered the critical stage in global industrialization, and many economic historians point to the period when a nation’s fossil fuels surpassed its use of wood and other biomass energy. However, new research in the “metabolism” of social-ecological systems demonstrates that biomass energy consumption, especially wood energy and feed for livestock, actually grew in many countries during industrialization. The core outcomes of this chair will include databases and publications on the environmental history of food and energy, articles comparing Canadian regions to the international literature on social-ecological metabolism, and a book on Canadian energy history.

For more information on the new projects underway at Dr. MacFadyen’s lab, visit .

The Canada Research Chairs Program (CRCP) was established in 2000 by the Government of Canada. It stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world's top countries in research and development. It invests approximately $265 million per year to attract and retain a diverse cadre of world-class researchers, to reinforce academic research and training excellence in Canadian postsecondary institutions.

Chairholders aim to achieve research excellence in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences. They improve our depth of knowledge and quality of life, strengthen Canada's international competitiveness, and help train the next generation of highly skilled people through student supervision, teaching, and the coordination of other researchers' work.

The University of Prince Edward Island prides itself on people, excellence, and impact and is committed to assisting students reach their full potential in both the classroom and community. With roots stemming from two founding institutions—Prince of Wales College and Saint Dunstan’s University—UPEI has a reputation for academic excellence, research innovation, and creating positive impacts locally, nationally, and internationally. UPEI is the only degree granting institution in the province and is proud to be a key contributor to the growth and prosperity of Prince Edward Island.


Dave Atkinson
Research Communications Officer
Marketing and Communication
(902) 620-5117

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