Meet Josh MacFadyen, Canada Research Chair in Geospatial Humanities and Associate Professor
What's your job title here at UPEI, and what do you spend most days doing?
I'm an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts. I teach in the Applied Communication, Leadership, and Culture program, and I hold the Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Geospatial Humanities. This means that I do research and I teach Arts students how to do research more effectively with computers, geographic information systems (GIS), and other tools in the emerging area known as the digital humanities. My Canada Research Chair has allowed me to hire student research assistants and set up a lab for Geospatial Research in Atlantic Canadian History, or what we call "GeoREACH". My goals are to train ACLC and other students in these tools, to develop new data and research capacity on PEI, and to publish new research on the history of the Atlantic region.
What brought you to UPEI? In other words, why did you choose to join the faculty?
I'm originally from PEI, and although I was fortunate to hold positions in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Arizona, I was excited to come "home" to the Island and make ACLC the base for this Canada Research Chair.
What kinds of opportunities have you experienced because you're teaching and working at UPEI, or because of the Island location?
I might be a little biased, but I think PEI is not only one of the most beautiful environments in the world, but it is also an excellent place to study social and ecological transitions, or what many in my field call "environmental history." My next book project is going to be a history of energy transitions in Canada, and especially how that impacted agriculture and rural land use. I'm exploring how rural Canadians exchanged an energy system based on biomass energy and extensive land use for the modern, intensive, and fossil-fuel based food and energy systems we know today. This is happening around the world, but here on PEI, the transition was relatively recent, very well documented, and within the memory of many older Islanders. We also have an image of PEI as "Canada's Food Island," which means many people are keen to discuss issues of sustainability, food, and land use history. One of my projects, the "PEI Back 50 Project," attempts to bring together these unique maps and documents in a digital survey experience for the people who have so much knowledge to share about what happened to rural land use during the transition. I am fortunate to have such rich scholarly, government, and local knowledge on which to build this new research project.
What's unique about UPEI, in your experience?
Partly because of UPEI's small size, undergraduate students have a unique opportunity to be part of the research, and even the teaching, that occurs on this campus. And some of that research, from island studies to veterinary epidemiology, to climate change and adaptation, is really world class. I like how UPEI faculty are dedicated to enriching the student experience, and I try to emulate this in both my courses and the lab. I want students to get at least as much out of the research assistant work as they are putting into it. I've been so impressed by the diversity of strengths and abilities they exhibit, so I believe if there is some aspect of the larger research project that excites them then they should be encouraged to run with that.
What would you tell a high school student considering a UPEI program?
If you are energized by a curiosity about how the world works, about how major social and environmental transitions occur, and about how you can help make a more sustainable world, I would encourage you to take one of our programs. In the Applied Communication, Leadership & Culture program, we encourage our students to take courses or even a full major in other disciplines in the Arts and beyond. This allows you to use your Arts education to become skilled communicators and stronger leaders in a range of fields and occupations.