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S. Craig Gerlach

  • Professor

Research Interests

After twenty years working at the University of Alaska, I moved to the University of Calgary in the fall of 2013 as a Professor in the Anthropology Department, and as the Academic Coordinator for Sustainability.  The move has been challenging but interesting. The University of Calgary is a great place to be a faculty member, and is one with tremendous existing and new opportunities for undergraduate and graduate student learning and research in all issues related to sustainability.  

Courses that I have taught and know that I will continue to teach here at the University of Calgary include the Sustainability of the Arctic, Sustainable Food Systems, Comparative Farming Systems, Sustainable Development, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and Sustainable Livelihoods and Community Well-Being.  I will continue my research in Alaska, with grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation, and encourage students and faculty with interests in arctic research to contact me as we have new projects beginning and an external funding stream for support. 

Most of my Alaskan research has been in northwest Alaska, on the North Slope, and in many communities up and down the Yukon River.  We recently expanded to include fisheries work on the Kenai Peninsula as well, with two of the general research questions being, “are fisheries sustainable and if so, how,” and “are we asking too much of the Yukon River in terms of sustainability, community health, and rural community self-reliance?”  I initially began my Alaskan research as an archaeologist, working mostly in the Brooks Range and with the Nunamiut in Anaktuvuk Pass, but I also conducted archaeological research along the Bering and Chukchi Sea coasts as well. I transitioned from archaeology into historical and contemporary subsistence research, land use mapping, socioeconomic impact assessment associated with oil and gas development, ethnobotany, ethnoecology, and to the collection of traditional and local environmental knowledge in remote, off road, coastal and interior Athabascan, Inupiaq and Yupik communities.  In the summer of 2013 we began an ethnographic and documentary film project in northwest Alaska in an effort to find a new and more creative way to visualize and disseminate information to agencies and Alaskan communities. Most of this research is still in progress in different ways, with Alaska Native community, new students and faculty collaboration from multiple regions, disciplines and universities participating.

My current research focus is on sustainable food, water and energy systems in remote northern villages, and emphasizes research at the intersection of climate, weather, policy, community health, food security and sovereignty.  Embedded in this is the idea of both history and food and water system innovation, with work in place on community gardens, greenhouses, alternative energy sources, water infrastructure, housing and shelter, and new ways to think about rural community design; in part, the goal here is to find and implment collaborative solutions that will reduce rural village dependence on large urban centers.  We are looking too at how changes in climate and weather are affecting ecosystem structure and function, at the impact of rapid change on rural communities, and perhaps more importantly, how individuals and communities are responding to change.

Based on research that I started in Sweden and Wales in 2009/10, I am also working with small scale farmers, ranchers, livestock growers, Community Supported Agriculture operations (CSA’s) and others to understand how climate and weather uncertainty is affecting our ability to produce food, with the emphasis in this context on food production for local and regional consumption rather than on commodity production for export, and on strengthening the fabric and resilience of rural communities during times of climatic and socioeconomic change.  This is work that I hope to expand into Canada in the near future. 

Other areas of research interest and a history of publication include work in agricultural and food systems geography, human-wildlife, human-livestock interactions, historical toxicology and ecology, and stability and change in long-term patterns of land and natural resource use.  All of this work is collaborative, and all of it involves close and on-going interactions with Alaska Natives, specialists in hydrology, engineering, architecture, the climate sciences, animal, crop and soil sciences, fisheries biologists, and the nutritional, health and epidemiological sciences too. 

Prior to beginning work in Alaska, I also conducted research in Africa, northern Mexico, the American Southwest, and later in Siberia, areas and regions that I continue to be interested in.  In the summer of 2014, I hope to begin a new project on food system innovation with First Nations communities in Yukon Territory.  If any of this research is interesting to you, I encourage you to be in contact as I am very interested in new collaborations with UC faculty, and in working with a group of new graduate students.  I can be contacted at scgerlac@ucalgary.ca; or, I can still be found by electronic mail at scgerlach@alaska.edu.  My University of Calgary office phone is  (403) 220-5699.

Photograph of S. Craig Gerlach

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