GS professor brings an expertise in human geography to JMU

GS Professor, Galen Murton

By: Caleb Ayers

You may find Galen Murton trekking through the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, riding his motorcycle along the Friendship Highway toward the capital city of Kathmandu, or exploring the diverse neighborhoods that comprise Harrisonburg, always looking for new ways to expose his students to tangible, real-world geographic issues.

Murton, who joined JMU’s Geography Science Program in the fall of 2017, brings an expertise in human geography, which he has gained through years of academic study, along with extensive ethnographic research in the very country where his dream began—Nepal.

Although Murton’s overseas travels were limited as a child, it was a study abroad program in Nepal with the University of Wisconsin in 1998-99 that instilled in him a love for international travel and scholarship. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in religion from Middlebury College in 2000, Murton returned to the Himalayas and continued to work and travel internationally for more than a decade. During this period, he worked primarily in experiential education, designing and leading study abroad programs to a variety of countries around the world, including China, India, Bhutan as well as places in the Caribbean and North Atlantic. 

Later, Murton returned to graduate school, and received his Master’s in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, followed by his Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Colorado Boulder. He wrote his dissertation about the complex and uneven impacts that roads and other infrastructure developments—like the Friendship Highway, Nepal’s first international road—have made on the country’s geopolitical dynamics and social experiences. In order to further explain the ways in which local development projects – like rural roads – connect to larger processes of state making and international relations, he is in the process of converting his Ph.D. dissertation into a book, provisionally titled “Infrastructure Power: Roads, Dams, and the Politics of Chinese Development Across Himalayan Borderlands.” 

Now that Murton is at JMU, his primary goal is to expose his students to tangible, real-world geographic issues, both locally and abroad. He recalibrated Cultural Geography (GEOG 380) —a class that JMU has not offered for several years— with a local focus, about “the politics of placemaking in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.” Additionally, he is creating a JMU study abroad program that will allow students to experience Nepal for themselves. “Nepal has become somewhere that I know pretty well, but there is always something new and exciting and really challenging to study and engage with,” said Murton.

In addition to teaching full-time, Murton is busy writing articles and exploring Harrisonburg. He also enjoys cooking, community radio, and doing a variety of outdoor activities with his 8-year old son, such as skiing, hiking, camping, and biking.

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Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Last Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2020

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