Matthew Evenden


Research Interests

Environmental History
Historical geography
War and environment

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.

Research Methodology



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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.

What the border divides: settler geographies and the making of the Northwest Territories (2019)

This dissertation is a critical examination of the historical and political geography of the North- west Territories from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. The study is presented in five body chap- ters, which integrate methods and theories from political geography, settler colonial studies, and northern studies. The study traces the history of Dene political mobilization and resistance to the persistent encroachment upon their lands that resulted from heightened speculation about the mineral and petroleum resources throughout Denendeh, the traditional lands of the Dene. In do- ing so, it links this history to contemporary scholarship that addresses how Indigenous peoples are represented, and how this representation factors into the historical appropriation of Dene lands. The dissertation examines Dene struggle from multiple angles, each of which is used to highlight different aspects of settler colonial relations of power in Canada. These are thematical- ly organized around discussions of time and temporality and their roles in making settler space. Chapters address the politics of postwar Indian Policy as it relates to the Northwest Territories, the expansion of the Mackenzie Highway and the role of Dene labour in it, efforts by Dene to map their historical lands, Dene participation at the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry in the 1970s, and the subsequent period of land claims negotiations of the 1980s. In each of these, longer histories of Dene struggle for treaty rights and land are incorporated with critical discus- sions of economic and political development. The study concludes at the signing of the Nunavut Agreement in 1993, and recounts the various ways that time is a dimension of settler 

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Science, borders, and boundaries in the western Arctic: environmental histories of the Porcupine Caribou Herd (2018)

The annual migration of the Porcupine Caribou Herd is an important biological phenomenon that is central to the maintenance of dynamic environmental relationships in the transboundary western Arctic (northeastern Alaska and northern Yukon). In this dissertation, I argue that far from being a purely natural or unchanging biological process, the herd’s migration has an historical geography, which has been shaped by human societies, and structured by the establishment of political, conceptual, and metaphorical boundaries and borders throughout the twentieth century. Informed by recent research in the fields of transnational environmental history, the history and geography of science, and critical northern geography, I develop a conceptual framework that seeks to explicate the role of caribou science in boundary-making practices in the western Arctic. In four conceptually-linked case studies, I examine the scientific establishment and reinforcement of critical boundaries employed by state-based wildlife management agencies during the twentieth century. These include the shifting line between domesticated and wild animals; the boundaries drawn around species, subspecies, and caribou herd concepts; the violable spatial and conceptual boundary between industrial development and critical caribou habitat; and, finally, the illusory threshold between safe and unsafe levels of exposure to radioactive contamination for both caribou and people. Across these four case studies, each boundary emerges not as stable line drawn around the natural world, but rather as a contested site of knowledge production. Through an examination of scientific boundary-making practices, I show how scientists not only sought to demarcate natural boundaries, but also contested and transformed the placement of the very line that separated scientific from non-scientific knowledge, and determined which individuals and groups represented legitimate producers of scientific knowledge about migratory caribou herds.

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Unbuilt environments: unrealized geographies of engergy and enterprise in the Stikine (2012)

This research examines the environmental history of development megaprojects in the Stikine River watershed in northwest British Columbia. Beginning in the late 1890s, this project analyses a series of infrastructure initiatives that were brought to the Stikine by the state, by entrepreneurs and by multinational corporations. Envisioned roads, railways, hydroelectric dams and mining ventures were never begun, never completed or left abandoned. In order to understand the impacts and outcomes of these projects, I develop the concept of unbuilt environments, a term which signals the environmental and social side-effects of planned but unrealized megaprojects that were conceived as development schemes, lucrative extractive economies or smaller-scale sustainable resource economies. Through an analysis of economies and megaprojects that did not or only partially materialized, this dissertation contributes to an understanding of the historical, geographical and economic development of an understudied area of northern Canada. I examine various phases of development in the region over a one hundred year period and ask what happens when plans go awry? What are the unintended outcomes? And how do the remains of one development process or project influence later schemes? Answers to these questions highlight the conflicts, tensions and contestations that follow the ambitions, calculations, assessments and failures of developers. I follow six case studies in my analysis of the unbuilt environment in the Stikine. The first two chapters are focused on the growth of economies around human-animal relationships and deal with the incipient development era preceding the Second World War. While not megaprojects, these development economies still left remains and are an important precursor to the modern era of infrastructure development and extractive economies. The discussion then moves to examine a range of cases in time and space ranging from railroad construction to hydro-electric development to mining projects and transmission line construction. To examine the Stikine with an eye to outcomes and side-effects is to raise questions about the particular legacies of development in a peripheral environment where extractive economies have been enormously important and where sustaining them has been difficult.

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Navigating bordered geographies : water governance along the Canada - United States border (2009)

This thesis investigates the rescaling of transboundary water governance across the Canada – U.S. border, focusing on three regional case studies: the Shared Waters Alliance, the Salish Sea Aboriginal Council, and the International Joint Commission Watershed Initiative. The case studies employ qualitative data drawn from interviews, participant observation, and quantitative data drawn from a comprehensive dataset that I created on transboundary water governance mechanisms over the period 1910 to the present. The analysis of the empirical material outlined above enables me to intervene in current debates over scale, governance, and borders, through mobilizing three bodies of literature: environmental governance, the politics of scale, and the social construction of borders. The resulting theoretical framework – which focuses on the rescaling of environmental governance within borderlands – contains three key conceptual claims. First, I argue that studying environmental governance at the site of the border helps to move discussions beyond a nation-state framework – challenging what Agnew refers to as the territorial trap. This is important given the nation-state focus of a significant proportion of the literature on environmental governance, an obvious over-sight considering the tendency of environmental issues (such as air and water pollution) to transcend national borders. Secondly, I argue that drawing on the “politics of scale” literature can offer new insights into processes of rescaling of environmental governance, specifically through interrogating local governance capacity in the context of devolution of environmental governance. In particular, my analysis challenges (often implicit) assumptions regarding the capacity of local actors to participate effectively in multi-scalar governance processes.Third, I argue that closer attention to borders can help refine critical assessments of transboundary environmental governance. Specifically, I suggest that all borders (even seemingly “natural” ones) are part of cultural construction and wider politics of power that help define and redefine the landscape. Pursuant to this, I explore how discursive (often-jingoistic) strategies are deployed to entrench borders – both physically and discursively. Understanding transboundary governance of water, in other words, requires close attention to the cultural politics of the border.

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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.

Erosion control on Vancouver’s edge : an environmental history of the Point Grey Cliffs (2023)

This geologically-informed environmental history of the Point Grey Cliffs from the mid-1800s to 2023 explores how the cliffs became a site of struggle over greenspace and development in post-war Vancouver. The thesis asks, what factors led to increased erosion of the Point Grey Cliffs in the century following Euro-Canadian settlement, and how were decisions made regarding methods to mitigate erosion? Research methods include archival research, historical newspaper and aerial photo analysis, landscape observation, and expert interviews. The thesis argues that increased erosion from approximately 1860 to 1960 cannot be explained by the geology of the cliffs alone, but is a result of settler activities including logging, an aerial tramway for construction of the University of British Columbia, marine development related to the opening of the Panama Canal, military use during WWII, and recreation. Only reactive measures were taken to control erosion until the late 1960s, when university buildings became in danger of toppling over the cliff edge. The Vancouver Park Board, UBC Alumni Association, and the University of British Columbia each spearheaded initiatives to mitigate erosion. Due to contradictory expectations around the state’s role in both development and nature conservation, distrust of public officials, and questions regarding the role of additional development to fix challenges created by earlier development, the first two initiatives failed. After a public engagement campaign, the University-led initiative finally succeeded, and only minor follow-up efforts to control erosion have been required. Climate change is a new threat to the cliffs, and with knowledge of the cliffs’ history, planners will better understand the context and need for public input regarding future development in the area.

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Hydro-transitions: an environmental history of Chilean electrification (2021)

This thesis examines the history of electrification and hydropower in Chile during the 20th century. Drawing from environmental history, technology history, and science and technology studies, it asks three central questions: How did technology, nature and society interact and shape the hydro-electrification of Chile? What were the economic, environmental and political consequences of damming Chilean rivers for power? And, more broadly, how did rivers, hydroelectric stations and power lines influence territorial and developmental imaginaries and policies over this period? The empirical foundations of the research are primary documents consulted at various archives and libraries in Santiago, Chile, as well as some online repositories. The thesis is structured loosely around the 1943 national electrification plan, which set the terms for constructing a large technological system to exploit Chile’s rivers for power. It explores the origins and creation of the plan, the execution of a key project on the Laja River in south-central Chile, and the failure of another project in Aysén in southern Patagonia. Using these case studies, the thesis makes three main arguments about the history of electricity and hydro power in Chile: 1) that electrification was a key component of the mid-century development project of state-led industrialization; 2) that the construction of the national grid, which is defined as a large envirotechnical system, reveals the limitations to technology’s capacity to capture and control the environment; and 3) that the process of national electrification was a bridge to nation-building processes initiated in the 19th century, as well as to environmental conflicts and energy politics that occurred during and after the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990).

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Afterlife of a mine: the tangled legacies of the Britannia mine (2016)

What happens to mining towns and their environments after they close? This question draws attention to both the social and cultural afterlives of mined landscapes, as well as the environmental legacies that follow mine closures. In this thesis, I explore these issues through a case study of the former copper mining town of Britannia Beach, BC. Located 30km north of Vancouver, on the eastern shore of Howe Sound, copper mining began at Britannia Beach with the opening of the Britannia mine in 1905. Production continued for the next 70 years, and at its peak, the Britannia mine was widely considered to be the largest copper producer in the British Commonwealth. Following its closure in 1974, the mine was redeveloped as a museum and heritage site, celebrating the history of mining at the Britannia and in BC. However, the site’s mining past continued to define and shape Britannia’s afterlife in other less celebratory ways. In the years after the mine closed, Britannia became mired in controversy over its longstanding pollution problems in the form of acid mine drainage. In examining the afterlife of this formerly mined site, I trace out the history of both of these legacies: cultural and environmental. I detail the redevelopment of the old mine as a museum and heritage site, and trace out ways in which the state and the mine’s various owners negotiated and developed remediation projects in order to address Britannia’s environmental issues. I focus on the tensions, conflicts and controversies that emerged between these cultural and environmental legacies -- between the desire to preserve and commemorate Britannia’s mining past and the need to remediate the mine. In tracing out the interplay between these dynamic and entangled legacies, I explore the ways in which different narratives of place, the past and the future were articulated through processes of commemoration and remediation.

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Children, caring, and contemporary environmental politics on the Peace River (2014)

This thesis concerns the place of children within the contemporary politics of environmental change on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia. Significant environmental controversies exist over the past and possible future hydroelectric development of the river and while children are not central to these, they have to come to be involved through various forms of outreach and education. I consider school units on the proposed ‘Site C Clean Energy Project’ and a regional stewardship education program in which children learn about and rear kokanee salmon, a material legacy of existing hydroelectric development on the Peace River. Specifically, I ask how and why children have come to figure within the contemporary environmental politics of the Peace. Drawing on theoretical and methodological scholarship in Children’s Geographies and Political Ecology, I lend close attention to the content, context, and ‘feelings’ of these cases. I argue that whether children have been enrolled intentionally or inadvertently, notions of care and responsibility frame their enrollment as part of environmental controversies on the Peace in both educational contexts. This thesis attests to the importance and interesting results of attending to children with relation to environmental politics. Echoing the students and teachers involved in the research, it draws attention to the importance of caring for children as young people relative to large-scale environmental change, while also encouraging attention to the potential implications of doing so, particularly in a (post)colonial context of environmental change. As a whole, this thesis contributes to recent political ecological scholarship that complicates questions of where environmental politics take place, and expands upon who and what are considered relevant to environmental politics. Its primary contribution is in its analysis of the two cases, and as it may encourage further consideration of the complexities of contemporary controversies of environmental change on the Peace River.

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