Susan Rowley

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not actively recruiting graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows, but might consider co-supervision together with another faculty member.

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

material culture
Cultural Heritage
arctic archaeology
heritage management

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.
I am interested in working with undergraduate students on research projects.

Research Methodology

Community Based participatory research

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Learning the land: an intergenerational study of Inuit knowing (2021)

This dissertation explores ways in which knowledge of and relationships with the land have been transmitted, generated, and elaborated by multiple generations of Inuit in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut. The land, here, entails the physical landscapes of ground, water, and ice as well as the living environment of plants, people, and animals including metaphysical beings. Based on anthropological research with Inuit living in Rankin Inlet and Chesterfield Inlet, located on the western shores of the Hudson Bay, I describe how Elders and adults in these communities have learned and passed on knowledge of the land from generation to generation. My methods include interviews, mapping people’s lived experiences, and participant observation of life in communities and on the land. Throughout this dissertation, I draw on theories of education and upbringing elaborated by Inuit. These include inunnguiniq (the making of a human being) and Mariano Aupilarjuk’s interconnected triad of inuusiqattiarniq (personhood), inuuqatigiingniq (peoplehood), and niqiqainnarniq (livelihood) discussed in the Qaggiq Model. I also situate ways of learning within the historic contexts that have impacted relationships with and understandings of the land. Attention is given to how current generations of adults, many of whom have grown up entirely in permanent settlements since the 1950s, interact with the land and fellow Inuit, maintaining relationships to the land, kin, community, and other beings while gaining and passing on knowledge. Challenges in learning the land are also discussed.Before and after the creation of the Nunavut Territory in 1999, Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit has been discussed as a concept related to how Inuit experience, knowledge, values, and worldview should guide and influence governance and resource management in the territory. I extend my analysis of how Inuit learn and pass on knowledge of the land to examine how Inuit involved in local and regional wildlife management organizations share knowledge engendered from lived experiences and shared community interactions. I assert that Inuit ways of knowing must be understood and supported by governments and resource management systems to encourage the inclusion of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in governance in the territory.

View record

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

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

An outside insider : Longji Zhuang Ecomuseum with the distinct “1+10 Guangxi model” (2023)

This study examines the Longsheng Longji Zhuang Ecomuseum in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China, as a case study to explore the dynamics of a government-led ecomuseum project and its impact on local community engagement and empowerment. Set against the backdrop of the unique "1+10 Guangxi Model," which places emphasis on preserving minority culture and fostering collaboration between traditional museums and ecomuseums, the research addresses three critical questions: the functioning of the ecomuseum under this model, the extent of its engagement and empowerment within the local community, and insights gleaned from its operations for rethinking ecomuseum practice in China and beyond. Through an investigation of the museum spaces, including the Exhibition & Information Centre, Ethnic Cultural Transmission Centre, and Cultural Model Households, the study seeks to understand the level of community participation in the project. Furthermore, by examining the interactions and stories of community members and museum experts, the research reveals diverse perceptions of the ecomuseum and its challenges. The findings contribute to a deeper understanding of community engagement and empowerment in ecomuseum practice in China, prompting a rethinking of ecomuseum philosophy and practices, and recognizing their potential and possibilities for making a difference in marginalized and neglected communities' lives.

View record

Textiles and the slow fashion movement : creating community through cloth (2023)

The fashion industry is one of the largest economic systems in the world. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic the fashion Industry was generating upwards of 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars of global revenue, employed billions of workers, and resulted in the consumption of 80 billion pieces of new clothing each year. While the pandemic brought minor setbacks for many brands, the fashion industry has seen rapid growth in recent years, and with this growth comes major issues to the social and environmental impacts involved in the making of clothing. People working in textile and garment factories are often faced with poor working conditions, miniscule wages, and regular contact with hazardous materials, risking their lives and safety to produce trendy, often inexpensive clothing for overseas consumption. The use of chemical manufacturing processes, synthetic materials and dyes, industrialized farming of natural fibers, and considerable amounts of pre- and post-consumer waste has made the fashion industry one of the most substantial in terms of its negative environmental impact. As consumers become more aware of these issues, there is an increasing demand for ethical and environmentally sustainable clothing brands that support equitable conditions for their workers, ensure fair pay throughout the supply chain, and reduce the use of hazardous manufacturing processes and associated environmental impacts.This thesis includes a case study of a small textile and clothing business located in Vancouver, BC, Maiwa Handprints (Maiwa). Maiwa utilizes a “human scale” or “slow” business model to prioritize building and strengthening relationships with the artisans they work with by focusing on preserving traditional production methods, fostering creative exploration and education, and building a community of thoughtful producers, consumers, and crafts peopleivaround the world. The Maiwa case study is compared with data from leading fashion industry experts to assess the impacts of a slow fashion business model in creating economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable practices in the textile and fashion industries. Anthropological analysis also reveals deep human connections to cloth and clothing and the ways in which it can reflect, shape, and even create our social and cultural realities.

View record

The toolstone formerly known as green andesite : a geochemical characterization of fine-grained lithic materials from the Burrard Inlet area, Vancouver, B.C. Canada (2020)

Archaeologists often attempt to identify rock type in the field and laboratory based on generalized visual characteristics. This approach has a great potential to produce incorrect categorizations that would detrimentally impact sourcing studies. This thesis research explores a green toolstone found in the archaeological assemblages of the Burrard Inlet region and surrounding area of North Vancouver, on the southern coast of British Columbia. Previously, this toolstone was called green andesite based solely on visual identification, and the designation has been reproduced in the literature and a handful of circular citations. The goal of this research was to use several geochemical methods, including wavelength dispersive X-ray fluorescence (WD-XRF) and portable energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (ED-XRF), to answer the question “Is the toolstone known as green andesite actually andesite?” The secondary goal of this project was to compare the toolstone data to publicly available geologic data from the nearby Indian River watershed to see if any locations could be eliminated as geological origins for the toolstone. The general conclusions of this research are that, based on major element concentrations, the material known as green andesite is not actually andesitic. However, if this research looked at trace element concentrations alone, green andesite dykes of the Indian River Valley could not be excluded. Taking time to establish rock type with standard geological and geochemical techniques before attempting to eliminate potential source affinities using only trace elements is an important step often overlooked in archaeological sourcing studies. The material formerly known as green andesite has been incorrectly labeled, and archaeological reports, collections, and catalogues have been reproducing this miscategorization. Through this research, I identified a possible rock type for the toolstone known as green andesite and using the provenience hypothesis (Wilson and Pollard 2001) I identified several geological contexts within the Indian River watershed that cannot be excluded as possible places of origin.

View record

(In)tangible: Indigenous responses to 'In a Different Light' at the Museum of Anthropology (2019)

Collaborative museology aims to foster relationships between museums and relevant stakeholders. Reflective and reflexive conversations about exhibits with stakeholding audiences are rarely built into museum practice post-exhibit installation. This thesis is an exploration into how discussions about exhibit representations with these audiences can continue after exhibits go up. I examine curatorial decisions and Indigenous responses to the design and messaging of one exhibit in the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Specifically, I consider 'In a Different Light: Reflecting on Northwest Coast Art,' the inaugural exhibit for the Elspeth McConnell Gallery of Northwest Coast Masterworks. Through semi-structured interviews and self-guided exhibit viewings, I discussed the exhibit’s displays with the associated curators and with four Indigenous women, who are current students or recent graduates of UBC programs. The exhibit reviewers picked up on core themes of 'In a Different Light,' including continuity, longevity, and the intangible meanings attributed to works displayed. The critiques they expressed point to two recommendations: 1) situate curators in relation to the exhibit topic; 2) continue to include nuanced, critical information that culturally contextualizes displayed works with their associated histories and stories. Challenging critiques raised important issues between how museums treat collections and how belongings are used within communities. I assert that it is a missed opportunity to treat installed exhibits as finished products, as representations that would not benefit from continued examination.

View record

sqeqip - Gathered Together (2016)

The Musqueam First Nation are a hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓-speaking people whose traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory encompasses what is now the Greater Vancouver area. Our main village and reserve is located at mouth of the Fraser River, and the ancestors of present-day Musqueam people have lived in this estuary for thousands of years. This thesis responds to a two-part research question: what forms does biography take, and what role does it have in the contemporary Musqueam community? As a Musqueam community member and researcher, I provide an ethnographic account of two distinct experiences to answer this question: a life history recording project conducted with a Musqueam Elder, as well as several sessions spent with an advisory group for the community-based museum exhibit "c̓əsnaʔəm: the city before the city." By drawing on the first account, I underscore the continued importance of place and place-based practices, particularly in remembering and sharing lived experiences. I also highlight the personal nature of how individuals relate to place. By drawing on the second account, I demonstrate a) the inseparability of narrating lived experiences and carrying forward our community’s distinct values, worldviews, laws, history, practices (otherwise known as snəw̓eyəɬ – teachings received since childhood); b) the collective nature of telling and remembering biographies and community history; and c) how this form of oral tradition – of life-telling – requires its own set of skills. I conclude that conversation, and more particularly, listening to expert storytellers gathered together, influenced not only the curation of an exhibit, but also how it can potentially inform other forms of representation such as biography and ethnography. This thesis seeks to contribute to the literature and discourses around the production of Indigenous life histories, oral history, Coast Salish and Northwest Coast ethnography, and the representation of Indigenous communities, particularly in the realm of museum work.

View record

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 site 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.

View record

Current Students & Alumni


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.


Learn about our faculties, research and more than 300 programs in our Graduate Viewbook!