University of Wisconsin–Madison

Yi-Fu Tuan Lectures

Yi-Fu Tuan in a classroom

The Yi-Fu Lecture Series features a wide variety of U.S. and international guest lecturers from all geographic disciplines. Lecturers at these Friday seminars also often speak at brown-bag lunches, one-on-one student sessions, and breakfast meetings with student interest groups as part of their visit. Doctoral students are invited to present their final research. The lecture series was initiated by Dr. Tuan (pictured at left) and receives enthusiastic support as a department and campus tradition.

All lectures are presented on Friday at 3:30pm in Science Hall - Rm 180 unless otherwise noted. Alumni, friends and the public are always invited to attend.

December 8 - Historical Settlement, Mining Contamination, and River Sediment Management in the Old Lead Belt, Ozark Highlands
Robert T. Pavlowsky
Missouri State University, Department of Geography


River systems respond to the patterns of geomorphic characteristics and human activities within the watershed albeit often at different scales. Mining-affected landscapes, in particular, reflect industrial and transportation factors such as terrain modification, soil and water contamination, and associated social risks. This study investigates the linkages between the environmental history and geomorphic condition of the Big River in southeast Missouri in order to evaluate proposed management solutions. Large-scale mining operations in the Old Lead Belt released excessive amounts of lead-contaminated tailings to the Big River from 1900 to 1972. Further, agricultural land clearing beginning after the Civil War increased flooding and soil erosion resulting in channel disturbances and extensive sediment storage on floodplains. Today, Big River ranks as a major contaminated river worldwide. A total of ~157 million Mg of contaminated sediment is stored along 170 km of the Big River, with 92% of it located in floodplain deposits that are typically contaminated to depths of 1.5-3.5 m. Management plans for the Big River are long-term and reflect environmental, economic, social, and political constraints. Public responses vary due to social and cultural factors. However, several remediation projects aimed at reducing ecological risk and human exposure are being implemented. A sediment budget framework is used to evaluate the scale and potential significance of management alternatives.

November 30 - Synthetic Biology and the Conservation of Nature
Kent Redford
Archipelago Consulting; Irvington, NY


Synthetic biology is a broad and fast-moving field of innovation that has the potential to change human’s relation with the natural world. It involves the design and construction of new biological parts, and the re-design of existing, natural biological systems. It has many potential applications that may change human relations to the natural world including replacing natural products (e.g. vanilla, ambergris) with synthetic ones, reviving extinct species, and creating powerful tools to address wicked conservation problems. Despite this promise and the vast sums being spent on its development, synthetic biology is virtually unknown to the conservation community. We must engage promptly, honestly and with a broad discussion to see how conservation perspectives can help shape this major emerging field. Weston Lecture (Co-Sponsored by Department of Geography). Talk is located in Room 1153 of the Mechanical Engineering Building. Refreshments at 4:00, talk begins at 4:15

November 17 - From Mud to Models: Building Community-Curated Data Resources to Study Species Responses to Past and Present Global Environmental Change
Jack Williams
UW Madison, Department of Geography


In paleoecology, community curated data repositories (CCDRs) have arisen in response to the desire to do global-scale science from local-scale data, which requires the careful assembly of many individual site-level paleoecological time-series into larger networks. This talk describes the building of the Neotoma Paleoecology Database (Neotoma, www.neotomadb.org), a CCDR that gathers and provides a high-quality archive for paleoecological data from the recent geological past, and some of the current geovisualization and scientific initiatives linked to Neotoma. These include Flyover Country (http://fc.umn.edu/), a mobile app-based platform for viewing geological data while traveling, and the Paleoecological Observatory Network (PalEON, https://www3.nd.edu/~paleolab/paleonproject/), which is bringing together paleoecologists, ecological statisticians, and terrestrial ecosystem modelers in order to improve the model parameterization and simulation of slow forest processes, operating at timescales of decades to centuries.

November 10 - Changes to the Global Value of Ecosystem Services: A Market Failure?
Paul Sutton
University of Denver, Department of Geography


The earth consists of a diverse array of Natural Capital in the form of functioning ecosystems. Ecosystem services are the essential and valuable services that these ecosystems provide to humanity for free on an annual basis. Attributing an economic value to these services measured in dollars is presented as a useful and meaningful alternative to valuing nature’s services at ‘zero’ or ‘infinity’. Estimates of the global value of ecosystem services are on the order of $120 trillion per year which exceeds the magnitude of the entire marketed economy by a factor of two. Changes to the world’s environment as manifested in the loss of coral reefs, the disappearance of wetlands, and deforestation have reduced the annual value of the world’s ecosystem services by roughly $20 trillion per year. These losses are significantly more substantial than the losses associated with the global financial crisis. Global estimates expressed in monetary accounting units, such as this, are useful to highlight the magnitude of eco-services, but have no specific decision-making context. However, the underlying data and models can be applied at multiple scales to assess changes resulting from various scenarios and policies. We emphasize that valuation of Eco services is not the same as commodification or privatization. Many eco-services are best considered public goods or common pool resources, so conventional markets are often not the best institutional frameworks to manage them. However, these services must be (and are being) valued, and we need new, common asset institutions to better take these values into account.

November 3 - Is There Space for Theory in Geography?
Anna Secor (Geography, University of Kentucky); Arun Saldanha (Geography, University of Minnesota); Keith Woodward (Geography, UW-Madison)


This panel opens the second in an annual, multi-sited Space for Theory Workshop (in collaboration with University of Kentucky, University of Minnesota, and UW–Madison Geography Departments) devoted to opening new channels for the development of theoretical problems in the discipline. Our goal is to incite and nurture a unique intellectual space in which theory is primarily what we are doing — not in a vacuum, not without politics certainly, but without apology. The workshops will be animated by a range of theoretical vistas. Our impetus for coming together is a desire for producing an excess beyond our capitalized labor in the academy, for the promotion of intellectual engagement and the exhilaration of thought. The workshop events will provide an opportunity to think about what it means for geographers to “do” theory for its own sake, that is (to borrow reflexive Deleuzian discourse), to work on theory as something that is immanent to itself rather than to something else (a transcendent outside that serves as its ground and legitimation – a practice, a situation “on the ground,” etc.). What does it mean for geographers to create and work on theory “in-itself” today? How does it work? What might it look like? Are there regimes of problems specific to geographers that aren’t conditioned by outsides (whether these are of the empiricist/realist/etc. varieties)? And aren’t these dangerous questions, anyway? This year’s workshop will center on inhuman “things” or objects, and questions of their ontological status in relation to humans and themselves. Do objects function merely as extensions or amplifications of human life? If not, should their existence be considered in a different “light” to that of the human? Are such non-human existences thinkable? With what differences and limits? What relation do they have to human-produced things, such as “technical” objects? Should we expect that technical objects and “collective individuations” might promise to unfold more freedom/equality/joy?

October 27 - Protected Areas and People in Uganda: Moving Towards Win-Win?
David Tumusiime
Makerere University


Winston Churchill referred to Uganda as “The Pearl of Africa” in 1907. Reasons for this reference included the wide array of beautiful and unique life forms – including birds, insects, reptiles, and primates. In contemporary Uganda, most of these life forms are protected and conserved in the country’s chain of Protected Areas (PAs). These constitute an important natural heritage, but also increasingly identified as a vital resource for local and national development for example through the associated tourism activities as is identified in Uganda’s national development plan and Vision 2040. However, impacts of establishing and maintaining these areas has for long been a contentious issue and a recognisable threat to conservation efforts. Over the years, several efforts have been made at many a Ugandan PAs to deliver win-win outcomes for conservation and local people. This talk will examine the extent to which this outcome has been achieved.

October 20 - The Politics of Value
Jane Collins
UW Madison, Environmental Sociology & Women's Studies


Why do we measure some things and not others? How do we decide what activities and arrangements are crucial to the health of our economy? This talk provides an overview of Collins’ new book The Politics of Value: Three Movements to Change How We Think about the Economy. It explores the work of three U.S.-based social movements engaged in “revaluation projects”—efforts to change dominant ideas about how to conceptualize and measure what matters for the economy. It raises questions about the relationship between struggles over economic value and the sustainability of our ways of living.

October 13 - The Enemy Within: Criminalizing Muslim Youth in the United States
Nicole Nguyen
University of Illinois - Chicago, College of Education


In September 2015, ninth grade student Ahmed Mohamed brought a homemade clock to his US public high school. Before he had the chance to show his engineering teacher his latest invention, Ahmed’s English teacher confiscated the clock and reported him to the school principal. Believing the clock was a bomb or “bomb hoax,” the police arrested Ahmed and transported him to a juvenile detention facility for fingerprinting and questioning. Ahmed’s story reveals how anti-Muslim racism affixes the “terrorist” or “criminal” label to US students perceived to be Muslim. In this talk, I examine the countering violent extremism (CVE) national security approach that calls on social service providers like Ahmed’s teacher to identify and report potential terrorists. I also explore how, similar to the coercive stressors applied to the Indigenous and Black freedom struggles, CVE pressures Muslim leaders to view political inclusion as the means to reduce social exclusion, racial profiling, and state-sponsored violence, forgoing more progressive political demands. By mapping how these practices criminalize youth and chill political dissent, I consider how national security policies institutionalize anti-Muslim racism and securitize community engagement. Such work can inform radical struggles for freedom, liberation, and self-determination.

October 6 - Modernity, Jews, and the City in the American Sociological Tradition, 1915 - 1934
Chad Goldberg
UW Madison, Department of Sociology


Between 1915 and 1934, Chicago School sociologists William Thomas, Robert Park, and their students Louis Wirth and Everett Stonequist portrayed Jewish immigrants as a quintessentially urban people who exemplified the perils and promise of the modern metropolis. For these thinkers, the Jewish “marginal man,” the city, and America were all sites in which different cultures came into contact and collision. This cultural contact and collision was, in their view, a hallmark of modernity. The resulting disorganization made new, more expansive forms of social control urgently necessary. From this perspective, Thomas and Park attributed great sociological significance to the Jewish Kehillah of New York City, an experimental attempt from 1909 to 1922 to provide the city’s burgeoning Jewish population (mainly immigrants and their children) with a unified and democratic community structure. The paper concludes with a novel reinterpretation of the concept of assimilation in relation to pragmatist concerns about social reconstruction and the formation of a democratic public under modern social conditions.

September 29 - Going West and Going Out: Discourses, Migrants & Models in Chinese Development
Emily Yeh
University of Colorado - Boulder, Department of Geography


In 1999, China announced the launching of the Open up the West campaign, sometimes called “Go West,” to help western China finally catch up to the much wealthier eastern, coastal areas after several decades of lagging behind. The same year, China also announced a “Go Out” strategy, to encourage Chinese investment abroad. The fifteen years since then have witnessed dramatic Chinese government investment in various development activities in western regions of China, as well as around the world. Though rarely considered together, I will argue in this talk that there are significant parallels, in development discourse, the centrality of physical infrastructure, the characteristics of Chinese labor migration and the nature of migrant-local relations, and the application of “models from elsewhere” in Go West and Go Out. Considering these parallels can help shed light on Chinese development discourse and practice, as China becomes increasingly important in the field of development once dominated by Western countries. Finally, I will briefly consider direct connections and convergences between the two strategies in China’s neighboring countries of Asia and in the One Belt One Road initiative.

September 22 - Madison Geography, a History, 1970 - 2000: Rememberances & Impressions
Tom Vale
UW Madison, Department of Geography


The long academic distinction of Geography at Madison continued over the final decades of the 20th century. Memories of that time are structured into eight themes that highlight simple facts and rumored stories, unqualified successes and puzzling shortcomings, ongoing harmony and occasional stress. Today's Department can look back at these years with curiosity, maybe with appreciation, perhaps with pride.

September 15 - "What did you do in the summer?"
UW Madison Department of Geography Faculty & Grads


A panel featuring various Geography faculty & graduate students will discuss their activities, achievements and happenings from this past summer break.

May 5
Treacy Lecture


April 21 - The Remittance Forest: Turning Mobile Labor into Agrarian Capital
Nancy Peluso
University of California - Berkeley


How does labor migration affect Southeast Asian forests? Political forests and agroforests in Indonesia have been declining rapidly as millions of hectares are given over to industrial plantations and mines, aggravating rural labor surpluses and increasing rates of domestic and transnational migration.  In the mountains of Java, where such plantations and political forests date back to government land grabs in the nineteenth century, forests are being reconstituted and reconfigured by unusual subjects: the daughters and wives of contracted forest workers and other forest villagers.  Working as transnational domestic laborers in Hong Kong and other prosperous Asian cities, these landless women are sending remittances home that are being invested in rural resources dependent in new ways on the forest for their production.  Forest ecologies, household and village economies, and gendered labor and land relations are being transformed in radical and unexpected ways and changing power relations as well as the distribution of access to and benefits from this mountain forest.


March 31 - Fighting for the future: competing land-use models in the history of protected areas in the Amazon
Raoni Rajao
Federal University of Minas Gerais


Geographers and more recently science and technology scholars have recognized the role of maps, remote sensing imagery and land-use models in not only representing but also governing the territory. As a consequence, these spatial representations have started to be studies not only for their epistemological aspects (i.e in/visibilities and their consequences) but also for the ways in which they perform the world in specific ways. Drawing upon this ongoing debate, this study examines the different land-use models that have shaped the creation of protected areas in the Amazon from the 1970s to the present. In particular, it shows that foresters, soil experts, veterinarians and more recently, biologists and simulation modelers have supported and fostered specific visions of both the present and the future of the Amazon. This examination indicates the central role of science and technology in both the colonization (and destruction) of the rainforest and the attempts to protect it. Furthermore, it reveals how the visions of the future embedded in these land-use models have been shaping the region in the last four decades.


February 17 - Property, Precarity, and Power
Nick Blomley
Simon Fraser University


Property law structures relations of access and use; private property protects access to some while denying access to others. In that sense, property is of constitutional significance: it constitutes a social order, for better or for worse. I suggest that one way in which we can assess the constitutional work of property, both analytically and ethically, is in relation to a particular conception of 'legal precarity’. By this, I mean the ways in which many people have a ‘precarious’ access to property, governed by property relations that are 'liable to changed or lost at the pleasure or will of another'. I use this to consider the relationship between housing, poverty, and property law, focusing on the particular legal actions of eviction and trespass.


February 10 - Soil Erosion Controls on Bulk and Pyrogenic Carbon Dynamics
Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
University of California - Merced


Erosion of topsoil, and associated bulk soil organic matter (SOM) and pyrogenic carbon (PyC) impose significant controls on dynamics of SOM in eroding, dynamic landscapes. As of yet, the relative lateral distribution and export of bulk SOM vs. PyC from eroding upland, fire-affected forested ecosystems has been poorly quantified. The extent of both bulk and PyC erosion from eroding watersheds depends on SOM concentration, composition and stability in eroding slope profiles, the type and rate of erosion, and time since and severity of past fires. In this presentation I will discuss how and why erosion affects soil carbon dynamics and the interactive effects of fire and erosion in dynamic fire-adapted landscapes in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California.


February 3 - Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island
Christy Clark-Pujara
University of Wisconsin - Madison


In Dark Work, I use an economic lens to tell a social history. I investigate how the business of slavery shaped the establishment and growth of slavery in the North, and how financial investments in black bondage affected the process of emancipation and black freedom in the new American Republic. I define the business of slavery as economic activity that was directly related to the maintenance of slaveholding in the Americas, specifically the buying and selling of people, food, and goods. Rhode Island is an ideal place to study the impact of the business of slavery because it is both exemplary and exceptional. Like their northern neighbors, Rhode Island¬ers bought and sold people and supplies that kept plantations in the Americas thriving; however, they were the most deeply invested. White Rhode Islanders’ economic investments in the business of slavery bolstered the expansion of race-based slavery, slowed the emancipation process, and circumscribed black freedom.