College of Integrated Science and Engineering

GS welcomes Case Watkins

image: /gs/images/news/case-watkins

By: Stephen Roddewig

Geography drew his interest because “it looks at environments in ways that don’t ignore the human connection,” said Case Watkins who joined JMU’s Geographic Science (GS) Program this fall.

Currently, Wakins is teaching Geography: The Global Dimension (GEOG 200), a general education survey of the human and physical geographies of twelve world regions, along with an interdisciplinary team-taught seminar on the connections between Africa and Science, cross-listed in ISAT and Africana Studies.  “One of the things I love about teaching is being able to show students how environments, cultures, and economies are all interconnected,” said Watkins. “Geography as a discipline is very powerful in that respect. It gives students tools to understand those complex connections and allows us to address the great challenges of our time—like human and economic development, social and environmental justice, and global climate change—in integrated and holistic ways.”

Watkins earned his Ph.D. in geography and anthropology from Louisiana State University (LSU) in 2015 and continues the research from his dissertation. He studies palm oil production in northeast Brazil using ethnography, landscape interpretation, archival research, and geographic information systems “to reconstruct the historical emergence of palm oil landscapes in Bahia, along what’s known as the Dendê (or Palm Oil) Coast, and to analyze the modern forces that seek to transform those landscapes.”

One goal of the project is to identify more sustainable development practices evident in Bahia’s traditional management and production systems. “Palm oil production, as it is practiced across most of the world, is extremely environmentally and socially destructive.” Global use of palm oil is extraordinarily widespread, increasing its impact. “One study showed that it’s in up to 50 percent of everything in a grocery store. It’s everywhere.”

“There is a lot of wisdom in traditional Afro-Brazilian palm oil production that could inform more sustainable agricultural development throughout the world,” Watkins said. “Palm oil is a lucrative and versatile global commodity. We have to find ways to produce it while minimizing its environmental and social costs.” 

In addition, Watkins recently coauthored Hispanic and Latino New Orleans: Immigration and Identity Since the Eighteenth Century, which focused on the cultural and historical geographies of transnational communities in the city. “That was such a rewarding project,” said Watkins. “It was a tremendous opportunity to work with a number of long-established and thriving communities typically overlooked in studies of New Orleans. The book highlights the contributions of Hispanic and Latino communities to one of the more vibrant cities in North America over the past four centuries.”  

During his spare time, Watkins enjoys fishing in the George Washington National Forest, as well as riding his bike, hiking, and camping with his family and their dog, Jefe.

Watkins advises students to “first find what you’re passionate about, what really motivates you, and then find ways to make those passions economically viable.” He recommends experiencing the surrounding area beyond JMU. “Make sure you enjoy what Harrisonburg and the Shenandoah Valley have to offer. Socially and environmentally, this is a diverse and exciting area. It’s a fascinating place to be a geographer.” 

Published: Thursday, December 15, 2016

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 21, 2017

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