Susan Rowley

Associate Professor

Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
Escape into nature : the ideology of Pacific Spirit Regional Park (2014)

This dissertation investigates the ideology of Pacific Spirit Regional Park, an urban forest adjacent to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Using the tools of archaeology and anthropology, I analyse the history, landscape, performance, and discourse of the park to understand Pacific Spirit as a culturally-constructed place that embodies an ideology of imperialism. Central in this dynamic is the carefully crafted illusion of Pacific Spirit as a site of “nature,” placed in opposition to “culture,” which naturalizes the values that created and are communicated through the park and thereby neutralizes their politics. They remain, however, very political. The park as nature erases the history and heritage of the Indigenous peoples of this region, transforming Pacific Spirit into a new terra nullius—a site to be discovered and explored, militaristic themes that consistently underlie park programs and propaganda. These cultural tropes connect to produce a nationalistic settler narrative wherein class ideals of nature and community are evoked in the celebration of Canada’s history of colonialism and capitalist expansion—paradoxically, the very processes that have caused the fragmentation of communities and ecosystems. The park as nature also feeds into the portrayal of this space as having been saved from development and, as such, an environmental triumph. In this context, the park is viewed as escape from the psychological trauma and alienation of city living and is celebrated and revered as a sacred place. This portrayal enables the forgetting of injustice and promotes a collective amnesia through the creation of a fairy-tale version of reality. The result is to disperse emotion and energy that otherwise could be mobilized against capitalism to prevent ongoing global ecological devastation. The ideology of the Pacific Spirit as nature therefore constitutes social violence by rewriting both the past and present of this land and its peoples, thereby hindering recognition of and rebellion against power. Pacific Spirit is thus a hegemonic space that reproduces colonial relationships and naturalizes capitalism. Exposing the park as a cultural place and illuminating the ideology that it perpetuates may be a crucial first step towards disrupting power through the creation of counter-narratives.

View record

From "Extinct Monsters" to Deep Time : an ethnography of fossil exhibits production at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (2014)

This dissertation traces the relationship between changing institutional cultures and the communication of knowledge to the public through exhibits, explored through an ethnographic and historical case study of a single set of halls at one museum—the fossil halls at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Having documented the first six months of planning for the NMNH’s new exhibit project, Deep Time, I show that many of the values and practices in current exhibits production have their roots in major cultural, professional and institutional shifts of the late-1950s. These changes, enacted and dramatized in exhibits production, came to transform the communication of science through exhibits. Indeed, I argue, the production of exhibits offers unique insight into the workings of an institution by describing a microcosm of the museum where what I have called disciplinary “complementarities” and “frictions” are debated and performed by small, increasingly interdisciplinary groups of people. Exhibit development thus emerges as a political and subjective creative act, rooted in particular institutional contexts and histories, that takes place at the intersection of paradoxical institutional missions and divergent disciplinary cultures. In the chapters of this thesis, I will contextualize and trace collaborative complementarities and frictions that emerge at three levels of exhibits production: exhibit content, group dynamics, and institutional mission. I will argue that these three layers of complementarities/frictions (from the micro-level of content specific to the planning of the fossil hall complex, to the experts that develop exhibits, to the broadest institutional mission of the museum) as revealed in the exhibits production process, have at their root foundational dual roles of the Smithsonian that are both paradoxical and necessary in creative exhibits production.

View record

Forging new partnerships : Coast Salish communities and museums (2009)

In recent years, much has been written about the changing relationships between museum professionals and First Nations. However, most of these accounts have been authored by the former group, while First Nations perspectives are conveyed through second hand accounts or less frequently the writings of indigenous scholars and artists. This thesis explores another type of viewpoint by presenting perspectives shared by individuals living and working in Coast Salish communities in Canada and the United States. The intent is to gain a clearer picture of something that has been referred to as the “democratization of the museum” by Canadian museum professionals such as Duncan Cameron (1982). Has access to museums and their resources dramatically increased? Is this reflected in current museum practice, exhibits, and public programs? To better understand the current status of community and museum partnerships I explore what drives Coast Salish communities to participate in museum representations (and other public commemorations). I also discuss some of the legal implications such representations have for establishing or defending aboriginal rights and title. From this vantage point I proceed to explore specific museum projects and partnerships, analysing the diverse experiences of those Coast Salish individuals who were invited and then chose to participate in this research project. A critique of museums results, but it is presented with the intent of providing a moment of reflexivity – an opportunity to re-evaluate current museum and community interactions, so that we can take another step forward on the path to equal partnership.

View record

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
sqeqip - Gathered Together (2016)

No abstract available.

Where do we keep our past? : working towards an indigenous museum and preserving nunavut's archaeological heritage (2016)

In Nunavut at present there exist only a small number of visitor’s centres and only one museum, which has rather limited capacities. This means that very few residents of Nunavut have access to a comprehensive museum, especially one that holds Inuit cultural material—unless they travel outside of the territory. There is an opportunity, therefore, to look at how a well-developed Nunavut museum could affect Inuit social well-being by exposing people to their own cultural material as well as how this could affect other social realms such as education and cultural revitalization. Through research on existing cultural centres in Canada and the United States I demonstrate the importance of access to museums for cultural well-being, cultural preservation and revitalization. Employing qualitative research methods in the study of existing cultural centres in Canada I explore the question of what museum and heritage centre models work best for indigenous and isolated communities. This research shows that there is enormous potential for significant positive cultural impacts in Nunavut with the development of a museum to call our own.

View record

Aktis Island houses and households : an ethno-archaeological study of the Ka:'yu:'k't'h home-base (2015)

This community-based project combined ethnography, history and archaeology to chronicle the life history of the houses and households at Aktis village, the historical home-base of the Ka:'yu:'k't'h (Kyuquot) confederacy on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. Though there are connections between the material house and the social household, they are not synonymous. Despite changes in architecture at Aktis village, there is continuity in social form. A diachronic perspective extending from the deep past to the present-day was used to examine this transformation. Archaeological mapping and percussion-coring were used to explore the distant past of the site. This revealed deep house depressions, suggesting that the locations of house sites at Aktis village were preserved through time. Core samples indicated shell midden deposits as deep as 3.5 metres, and almost uninterrupted occupation since 1686±126 BP (calibrated radiocarbon years before present), with a possible break between 1627±118 BP and 1384±107 BP. Interviews and historical documents suggest that the big houses and the lineage properties on which they stood acted as powerful symbols for extended family households. Though nuclear families moved out of the big houses, they continued to live in family groups, building smaller homes on their lineage properties. The centrepiece of the lineage properties were the externally-ornate dance houses, which, though vacant, represented family prestige and solidarity. The dance houses were torn down around 1930. However, lineage properties (and the family ties they represented) were maintained. The move away from Aktis village in the 1970s eliminated the community’s daily encounter with the lineage properties, a tangible symbol of household groups. Even so, the traditional ideology of kinship that bound together members of a house persists: Ka:'yu:'k't'h extended families continue to exhibit considerable social solidarity at key moments in the lives of their members.

View record

Practices of collaboration : exploring institutional culture at the Laboratory of Archaeology (2015)

Collaboration is an important process for achieving partnerships between Indigenous groups and researchers working in the fields of archaeology and museum anthropology. Julia Harrison (2005) suggests that the unique culture of an institution should be considered a critical factor in developing successful collaborations between museums and communities. This thesis explores the idea of institutional culture further through a case study of the Laboratory of Archaeology at UBC (LOA). The purpose of this research is to examine the ways an archaeological repository can engage in collaborative work and to explore how institutional culture develops over time. This paper draws on interviews, archival research and my own experience working at LOA. I first look at LOA’s institutional history to examine how its culture has developed. Instead of exploring one collaborative project, I discuss key events as part of a larger on-going collaborative process. This provides important context for LOA’s current approaches to working with communities. I explore a number of LOA’s practices and policies, analyzing how they address power asymmetry and facilitate sharing knowledge between communities and archaeologists. Finally, I examine how these approaches have become a part of LOA’s institutional culture through both practice and written policy.

View record

The Curtin site : the historical archaeology of a rural farmstead in Ops Township, Ontario (2013)

This thesis is an analysis of the economic context of the occupation of the Curtin site (BbGq-22), a rural farmstead in Ops Township, in the former Victoria County, Ontario. In addition to subsistence farming, the occupants of this rural site were engaging in non-agricultural cottage industries and exploiting the resources of the natural environment they inhabited. The Curtin site is an example of a rural farmstead that was increasingly oriented towards a regional economy throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century. Current literature on the subject of farmstead archaeology emphasizes the importance of constructing regional models of agricultural production and material culture. This thesis aims to contribute to the development of such models in order to facilitate the interpretation of historical archaeological sites in southern Ontario, and specifically in the former Victoria County. To accurately assess the significance of a historical farmstead site in rural Ontario, it must be considered within the context of the socioeconomic systems and physical environments that have influenced its occupational history. As such, this thesis includes a comprehensive review of archival, historical, and geographical information that provides context for the interpretation of the sample artifact assemblage yielded by the archaeological excavation of the Curtin site. I infer that, in addition to being a self-contained unit of production and consumption, the occupants of the Curtin site participated in non-agricultural industrial activities including blacksmithing, pottery and brick-making, which engaged them with a regional economy. Errata:

View record


Membership Status

Member of G+PS
View explanation of statuses

Program Affiliations


If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.