Ongoing research

Department faculty are engaged in a variety of ongoing research projects, many of which have scope for student involvement.

Find summaries of ongoing projects listed under each of our departmental research themes.

Research projects relevant to this departmental theme crosscut the traditional subfields of cultural and biological anthropology and are unified by their concern to examine how inequalities, past and present, shape access to resources, particularly those related to health care and housing.

Homo Economicus or Homo Islamicus?: The Globalization of Islamic Finance, Daromir Rudnyckyj

Recent financial crises around the globe have precipitated renewed enthusiasm across the Muslim world for an Islamic alternative to conventional finance. This project is an ethnographic investigation of plans in contemporary Malaysia to develop the infrastructure necessary to create a transnationally valid Islamic financial system. The project documents the debates among government planners, Islamic scholars, bankers, and others as the state seeks to make the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, the “New York of the Muslim world”: the central node in a transnational Islamic financial network. The project asks whether Islamic finance offers an alternative economic rationality to conventional capitalism or whether it simply represents a translation of homo economicus into Islamic idioms. This ethnographic study of the everyday practices of creating a transnational Islamic financial infrastructure offers the possibility of an alternative conceptualization of globalization, insofar as it focuses on a global network in which traditional centers in Europe, the United States, and East Asia play a relatively minor role.

Southeast Asian women, migration and family in the global era - Leslie Butt 

This study researches the impact of migration on the family and reproductive lives of a new generation of skilled migrant women, particularly from Indonesia and the Philippines, who leave home to work abroad in Canada, Australia and Singapore.  This research fills an important gap in scholarly understanding about migration and the effect it has on the family and on decisions concerning children within a new era of “global parenthood.” The study runs from 2013-2018.

How bodies matter to street youth in Victoria, B.C. -  Lisa Mitchell

This project in Victoria B.C. examines how street youth’s understandings and experiences of their bodies shape their practices of risk-taking and risk-avoidance. As part of this project, street knowledgeable youth work together in a social action group, More Than One Street, creating resources to build understanding of the complex lives of street youth.

Housing and homelessness in Victoria BC -  Margo Matwychuk

This research is linked to two funded projects:

  • Community-based research in conjunction with a local housing and service provider that explores transition housing as a solution to homelessness and ways to monitor the benefits and challenges of various forms of housing first models (funded by SSHRC and CMHC)
  • A knowledge mobilization project that explores existing evidence for the varied solutions to ending homelessness and linking researchers at UVic and York University (funded by SSHRC)

This is linked to advocacy work though the Research and Evaluation Working Group of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness and the UVic-Community Housing and Homelessness Advisory.

Research projects relevant to this departmental theme crosscut the traditional subfields of archaeology and biological anthropology to address questions of how humans and non-human primates relate to their environments over both short and long-term time scales.

Azraq Marshes Archaeological and Paleoecological Project - April Nowell

With my colleague, Dr. Carlos Cordova (Oklahoma State University), I research hominin and, in particular, Neandertal survivorship and extinction in the Levant.

What today is a desert in Azraq, NW Jordan was once a thriving wetland, teeming with life, a true oasis. Azraq is the Arabic word for blue and people living in the town of North Azraq today remember fishing as children in the surrounding wetlands, known as the Druze Marsh.

Due to excessive water pumping the marshes that existed for hundreds of thousands of years in Azraq have all but disappeared---all that remains is a small, artificially supported wetlands reserve south of the town. In 2007-2009, we conducted excavations at Druze Marsh and in 2013, we expanded our project to include a study of the Shishan paleomarsh in the Azraq Wetlands Reserve in south Azraq because as a result of the marshes drying up, deeply stratified archaeological deposits  (12,000 BP- >200,000 BP) reaching back into the Pleistocene were exposed. 

These deposits reveal not only tools, hearths, animal bones and butchering sites left by hominin species but also well preserved sediments demonstrating the changing hydrology and climate of the region. This stratigraphy allows our international team of students and scholars to study, over time and space, the changing dynamics of hominin settlement patterns, their use of resources and their responses to fluctuating climates and water availability.    

Specifically, we want to know if, when and in what ways the Druze and Shishan Marshes served as refugia for ancient hominins and what this can tell us about the long-term adaptability of our species.

Early holocene patterns of faunal exploitation from the site of Dayan in southern China - Yin Lam

With an archaeological record dating back to the terminal Pleistocene, the site of Dayan in Guangxi province, China, has yielded early pottery and a rich faunal assemblage.

The objective of this SSHRC-funded research is to determine how patterns of faunal exploitation by local populations changed from the Pleistocene/Holocene transition to the very beginnings of agriculture in this region.

Growing Up in the Pleistocene: Neandertal Children and the Evolution of Play Behavior - April Nowell

In a forthcoming book chapter and in several papers to be presented in upcoming workshops and conferences I have been exploring the evolution of play behavior and what it can tell us about the ways in which our ancestors may have learned and transmitted culture. 

The life history pattern of modern humans is characterized by the insertion of childhood and adolescent stages into the typical primate pattern. It is widely recognized that this slowing of the maturational process provides humans with additional years to learn, transmit, practice and modify cultural behaviors.  In both human and non-human primates a significant amount of their respective dependency periods are spent in play. In contrast to modern humans, the fossil evidence seems to suggest that Neandertals experienced shorter childhoods.  

If correct, this is an important difference because there is a great deal of psychological and neurobiological evidence that demonstrates that it is during infancy, childhood and adolescence that milestones in social and cognitive learning are reached and that play and play deprivation have a direct impact on this development. 

Faster maturation rates and thus shorter childhoods relative to modern humans lessen the impact of learning through play on the connectivity of the Neandertal brain and this may explain some of the differences archaeologists see in the material culture of Neandertals and modern humans.

Human skeletal variation: Adaptive responses during growth of the bony pelvis - Helen Kurki

The size and shape of the human bony pelvis varies within and among populations. Such variation may have implications for the risk associated with childbirth, in relation to the so-called “Obstetric Dilemma”. What we don’t know is what ecological and cultural factors influence the growth of the bones of the pelvis, such as climate, terrain, activity, or technology.

In this NSERC-funded project, Dr. Lesley Harrington (University of Alberta) and I are examining the potential role of biological plasticity in shaping the human bony pelvis during growth. We are combining three-dimensional laser scanning technology with radiographs and traditional osteological data to assess bone growth and development, age at death, and activity from the skeletons of juvenile and adults from various well-documented archaeological contexts. 

 Changing Landscapes in Discovery Islands Archaeology - Quentin Mackie  and Daryl Fedje

At the end of the last ice age, sea levels were  more than 185 metres higher on Quadra Island and the surrounding Discovery Islands.  They then fell rapidly to modern levels at a rate of more than 10 cm per year, on average  This project seeks to document the rapidly changing landscape and to discover early evidence for human use of these islands.  Landscape changes are modelled through sea level history and LiDAR-derived base mapping. We conduct highly-focused archaeological survey and testing of ancient shorelines and environmental hot-spots such as rock shelters, most of which are now well inland.  To date we have extended the archaeological record to at least 10,100 years ago with several sites holding the potential to be more than 13,000 years old. Several graduate students are working on models, stone tool technological practices, and the geoarchaeological setting.  This project is generously funded by the Hakai Institute and Tula Foundation.

In diverse ethnographic, historic, and archaeological contexts, research projects within this rubric range from collaborative partnerships with indigenous communities and disenfranchised populations to critical engagement with political and economic elites. Current foci include research on land rights, human rights, finance, formal and informal economies, science and technology, migration and mobility, conservation and development. 

Innovations in Ethnographic Mapping and Indigenous Cartographies - Brian Thom

The Innovations in Ethnographic Mapping and Indigenous Cartographies project grapples with the practical problem of implementing socially and politically powerful mapping initiatives which can effectively visualize and communicate indigenous peoples’ knowledge and experience of the land.  Indigenous relational ontologies and indigenous social and legal orders must inform ethnographic mapping projects, and challenge us to innovate.

This project -- funded by SSHRC and Google – is has faculty and graduate students working through UVic’s Ethnographic Mapping Lab to develop collaborative pilot projects in Coast Salish (BC, Canada) and Itelmen (Kamchatka, Russia) communities that integrate important theoretical developments in anthropology, inexpensive, powerful, networked, and accessible 3D cartographic technologies that better address indigenous communities’ mapping needs.

Project website:

Mapping Culture, Private Property and Human Rights:  The Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group Petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights - Brian Thom

I am collaborating with colleagues from the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group and the University of Arizona Indigenous People Law and Policy Program to articulate how human rights to property, culture, religious expression and equality under the law have been violated by the 1884 E&N Railway Grant and Canada’s ongoing denial of aboriginal cultural practice on private lands. 

At the centre of this re-framing of Canadian First Nations land claims as internationally significant human rights issues are a series of maps, produced through a long-term ethnographic collaboration with cultural practitioners and political leaders in the community. 

This project maps the discord between private property and indigenous cultural practice. See the project website for more information.

A Global Political Ecology of Conservation Practice in Canada's National Parks: A Comparative Investigation - Brian Thom

The unique legal and jurisdictional context of Canadian aboriginal peoples has yielded new insights into successful collaborative conservations partnerships with indigenous peoples. This project details elements of what constitutes a strong partnership and the kinds of processes and relationships that go into building enduring ones. 

This SSHRC-funded Insight Grant (principal investigator Robin Roth, Geography, York U) mobilizes representatives from aboriginal communities and conservation partners across Canada to conferences, writing workshops and other events. 

From these, we are building a compelling picture of key successes in the Canadian experience. See the project website for more information.

Developing corpora for language revitalization: Translating Hul’q’umi’num’ Land Claims Speeches - Brian Thom

I am contributing to a SSHRC-funded research project (principal investigator Su Urbanczyk, Linguistics, UVic) focussed on developing corpora (large collections of language materials that include a range of speech styles and genres and can be useful for a variety of research and pedagogical purposes) to aid in language revitalization. 

This project is to translate and contextualize powerful contemporary speeches about the significance of and struggle for the land made by Hul’q’umi’num’-speaking elders.

Collaborative archaeology in Haida Gwaii and southern Vancouver Island - Quentin Mackie, Darcy Matthews

Focused on extending the known archaeological record to document the cultural resilience of First Nations groups in the face of major long-term environmental change, the UVic Anthropology faculty and graduate students continue a long-standing working relationship with First Nations people in Haida Gwaii and are developing collaborative projects with First Nations groups on southern Vancouver Island.

PhD student Darcy Matthews is engaged in a collaborative study of Coast Salish burial cairns aimed at illuminating the social context of these thousand-year-old memorials.

Genealogies of practice and global entanglements in Banda, Ghana, AD 1000-1900 - Ann Stahl

This research challenges conventional images of West African societies as enmeshed in unchanging tradition by exploring the dynamics of cultural practice in a rural chieftaincy in west central Ghana. Working collaboratively with Banda peoples the project draws on oral historical, archival and archaeological sources to explore continuities and change in practices of settlement, subsistence (diet) and craft production as the area was successively drawn into shifting networks of global exchange (Saharan and later maritime Atlantic connections) and formal colonial relations.

The long-term project goal has been to investigate how communities negotiated changing geopolitical landscapes through material practice and help us to understand the role of long-term global entanglements in shaping contemporary political economic landscapes. Current project activities centre on development of a digital repository and a public-facing web portal through which people in the Banda area, and elsewhere where appropriate, can access and use project resources.

"Inkameep day school children's art" Andrea Walsh

Working collaboratively with the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Osoyoos Museum Society, this project involving UVic undergraduate and graduate students is devoted to researching and documenting a collection of 1930s-40s Okanagan children's art from the Inkameep Day School that was located on the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve near Oliver, BC.

Artwork from this project was featured in a major art exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery and continues to travel as a unique exhibition throughout Western Canada.

A bi-lingual Virtual Museum of Canada website about the history of the school and art program has been created for public use, and presently, a documentary film about the Inkameep Day School is being developed with an initial development grant from the National Film Board of Canada.

Culture is actively produced through technology, media and material culture more generally. This research theme connects the work of visual and cultural anthropologists with archaeologists who are investigating the social dimensions of technology.

Wires, Waves and Webs: Media Infrastructures and Sonic Aesthetics in Contemporary Cuba - Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier

This project explores how digital music is produced, consumed and circulated in Cuba. Collecting narratives that incorporate stories about the limitations and opportunities offered by media infrastructures helps to understand what it means to consume, share and produce digital music in Cuba today. This project looks at how Cubans use cell phones and the internet and considers the generative impacts of cables, wires and webs. In other words, it explores how mobile phone networks, transmission stations, cable systems, internet routers, server farms, internet service providers, satellites, and undersea cables (among others), as well as the institutions that regulate these systems, are all connected and are all implicated in the circulation of digital media, in the creation of networks and collectives, and in the production of new sonic aesthetics. 

Audio-visual and experimental film productions - Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier

The project Guardians of the Night (Internal Research Grant 2017-2018), in collaboration with Dr. Eleonora Diamanti (post-doctoral fellow, UVic) is a research-based project that will take the form of a creative and sensorial short-length film about the cyclical and spontaneous life activities that emerge at nighttime in Eastern Cuba. The Guantánamo-based DJ Zevil will produce the soundtrack of the film.

La Tumba Mambi (2018) co-produced with Havana-based DJ Jiguë. The film follows Flavito, a young member of the tumba francesa La Caridad de Oriente located in Santiago de Cuba, who discovers the rich history of this cultural group, while he is working on a school-based homework. DJ Jiguë created the film’s original soundtrack that combines traditional music of the tumba francesa with electronic influences and rhythms.  

The project Image and Sound Making: A Comparative and Collaborative Approach to Visual Anthropology (FAPESP-UVic grant; 2013-2015) aimed at developing a comparative and collaborative approach in Visual Anthropology between researchers working in different locations. With two Brazilian colleagues working at the University of São Paulo, Dr. Sylvia Caiuby Novaes and Dr. Rose Satiko Gitirana Hikiji, we directed, produced the film Fabrik Funk (2015; 24’) about funk music in the periphery of this mega city. More than a standard ethnographic film based on observational aesthetics and principles, we produced an ethno-fiction which aimed at showing the reality of Negaly, a young woman who would like to take part in the music industry despite the challenges she encounters. In 2015, we finished our second short ethnographic film called The Eagle (17’) about Miguel Aguíla, a Cuban expatriate living in Victoria, British Columbia.

Urban soundscape and interstitial spaces - Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier

The project Opening the Back-Alley Pathway: Towards an Audio-Visual and Creative Approach in Anthropology (Faculty of Social Sciences, UVic) explored the landscapes and the soundscapes of Vancouver’s back alleys. The research addressed two main questions: How are back alleys experienced from a visual and sonic perspective in Vancouver; and what can sonic and visual design teach us about the appropriation, interpretation and use of back alleys by social actors?

Examples of video-clips produced with the collaboration of musicians and artists can be watched here:,

Pleistocene Visual Cultures and the Science of Seeing - April Nowell

The field of Paleolithic art is undergoing a fundamental and exciting transformation from the study of specific meanings of specific images (i.e., what does this bison symbolize?) to the study of why the making of images was important to certain Upper Paleolithic peoples at different times and in different places.

In order to approach the imagery in this way, it must be studied within multiple layers of context—for example, the technical and material knowledge of Upper Paleolithic peoples, forensic approaches to the study of the age and sex of the image makers, the physical and acoustic properties of caves, the association between parietal (wall) art and portable art, patterning of images, and landscape approaches linking sites with imagery to sites without imagery.

Ultimately, this research will contribute to the establishment of what Margaret Conkey has called an "ice age sensibility" giving archaeologists a window onto the choices made by these ancient peoples and the recursive relationship between them and the Pleistocene visual cultures they created.


My colleague, Dr. Leslie Van Gelder watch Dr. Van Gelder's TEDx talk, and I are embarking on an ambitious project to document finger flutings throughout France and Spain.  Dating back to the Ice Age, finger flutings are quite literally the remnants of human touch.  Specifically, they are lines that were drawn with fingers on soft surfaces in limestone caves during the Upper Paleolithic, 10,000-40,000 years ago, in Western Europe and Australia. In France and Spain, they have been found in fifty-two caves and, because they are made with people's hands, they contain a wealth of forensic evidence about age, sex, height, handedness and idiosyncratic art-making choices among unique individuals.  Because finger flutings let us focus in on the actions and choices of an individual, our research give us a unique opportunity to look more closely at who entered the caves, who engaged in mark-making, as well as where and how people engaged with each other. It will also generate insights into regional symbolism, craft production and apprenticeship, embodied cognition, the role of men, women and children in the creation of cave art, knowledge production and consumption, and the interrelationship between figurative and non-figurative art, as well as giving new insights into the use of caves by Upper Paleolithic peoples. 

This research is sponsored by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant (2016-2018): Disentangling Identity: A Study of Upper Paleolithic Finger Flutings in Franco-Cantabrian Europe.

“Banda thru Time”: A Digital Heritage Initiative - Ann Stahl

Our three-year SSHRC Partnership Development Project (2018-2021) will create digital heritage collections in Ghana that foster new forms of research and knowledge mobilization relevant to communities, scholars and broader publics. A key project outcome will be a public-facing Ghana Heritage web portal through which users can access sustainably archived digital heritage resources. The portal will provide entry to an expanding array of heritage resources (photos, videos, data bases, maps, reports) housed in trusted digital repositories distributed across institutions and countries. Working collaboratively with Ghanaian communities, we will co-create relevant heritage resources, promote training and provide mentoring in the archiving and uses of heritage resources that can help to build sustainable futures. We aim to produce educational benefit by developing English and first-language heritage curriculum for Ghanaian schools, fostering both literacy and digital literacy.

Residential School Art Research - Andrea Walsh

In 2011 a group of Survivors and families, faculty and students created a research and exhibition collective we call the RIDSAR (Residential and Indian Day School Art Research) group. Working closely with the University of Victoria’s Legacy Art Gallery staff, we focus on community-based, collaborative work to locate and document artworks created by children and youth who attended Indian residential and day schools in Canada. The RIDSAR collective has to date worked with a specific focus on a collection of paintings created by students who were taught by the late Mr. Robert Aller. After his death in 2008, Mr. Aller’s family gifted a collection of paintings he’d collected during his years of teaching Indigenous children and youth art between the late 1950s and early 1970s. The collection includes the work of students who attended residential schools in Alberni, BC, and Dauphin, Manitoba, and who attended summer ‘art camps’ he ran in communities on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, and in Golden Lake, Ontario.

The RIDSAR collective in collaboration with Alberni IRS Survivors repatriated paintings to Survivors and families in the spring of 2013 and we continue to work to exhibit the children’s art in public art galleries. This work is now recorded in the Canada Hall in the Canadian Museum of History in Hull, Quebec. Most recently, the RIDSAR collective has initiated a project to repatriate paintings from the Aller Collection to MacKay IRS Survivors. In the spring of 2018, 59 paintings were transferred to the University College of the North in Thompson, Manitoba in preparation for meetings with Survivors, families, and community members about culturally appropriate repatriation protocol, and potential research/future exhibition of the paintings. Finally, the artworks created by children from the communities of Wikwemikong, Birch Island, and Mchigeeng on Manitoulin Island were transferred in 2014 to Laurentian University in preparation for a collaborative project with the Sudbury art gallery. Foundational work and dialogue on this latter project is set to begin in the summer of 2018.

A summer field school was held through the department in 2010 to document, accession, and begin research on the Aller collection of paintings. See the blog for this class for more information.