Jonathan Eaton

Exploring Cultural Heritage as an Opportunity for Recovery in the Aftermath of Disaster
Faculty of Arts
Sara Shneiderman
United States
Vanier Scholarship

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Over the past decade, I have met and worked with many inspiring people, who have shaped me personally and professionally and informed my decision to pursue a graduate degree. Prior to coming to UBC, I spent more than 7 years living in Albania, first with a Fulbright scholarship and then working for the non-profit organization Cultural Heritage without Borders. Inspired by the organization’s mission to restore and build relations in countries affected by conflict and disaster, I joined an international group of ‘cultural first aiders’, which helps people respond to threats to their cultural heritage. Given that this is such a new and developing field, I saw the need for further research on the relationship between people and heritage within post-disaster recovery. I framed my research to address this need and contribute to this growing field by placing people-focused, heritage-based research into conversation with disaster research.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

What drew me to UBC was the university’s reputation for relevant and engaged research, my advisor Sara Shneiderman’s work on post-earthquake reconstruction in Nepal, and the ability to be a bit closer to my family based in this part of the world.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

The Anthropology Department reflects the very best of the kind of community-engaged research that UBC aspires to – a type of research that seeks to be collaborative, rather than extractive, and benefits all involved. That focus, along with the support and care of the students and professors that I met, was what attracted me to this program.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

I am constantly and delightfully surprised by how many people in Vancouver have dogs and take them everywhere.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

Work at the cross-section of heritage and disasters is not exactly a career that exists in the strictest sense. However, there is a small, dedicated, and growing network of people who are making it such. For all of us, one of the great challenges will be to professionalize our own field with data-based action while making a strong case for the value of people-based qualitative research to aid disaster recovery.

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

The flexibility of both my program and UBC has allowed me to put my own perspective as an anthropologist into conversation with engineers, planners, geographers, earth scientists and others who are broadening my perspectives while being open to challenging their own.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

Working in an international non-profit organization for a number of years gave me confidence in the applicability of my research and has helped me to stay focused on my post-graduate goals.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Schedule down time and recreation time. Everything in your life will be making demands on your time, and as a graduate student, it’s often difficult to make time for the people and activities that are important to you. For graduate students, work is never limited to 9-5, Monday-Friday – it quickly fills any and all voids. It may sound counterintuitive that you can feel more relaxed (and more comfortable about relaxing) by scheduling even your down time. But being aware of your work load and making attempts to limit it to healthy levels will make you more productive when it matters, and to keep your energies focused on what is important to you. And after all, when the campus is surrounded by a forest, take advantage of it. Trees help you think!