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Friday, October 22, 2021

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SDSU geographer Trent Biggs measures streamflow with colleagues while working in Brazil. SDSU geographer Trent Biggs measures streamflow with colleagues while working in Brazil.

Forests, French History and Filming in Fiji: Still More Summer Research Abroad

Faculty are conducting critical fieldwork in Fiji, France, Brazil and elsewhere.
By Kellie Woodhouse

Dozens of San Diego State University professors are abroad this summer, conducting fieldwork for critical research and creative activities in five of the seven continents. 

This is the third installment in a series that highlights faculty research abroad this summer.

Unearthing French Archives

Historian Pierre Asselin spent much of the spring and early summer digging through archives in three French cities, seeking to unearth a key French strategy during the First Indochina War.

During the war, which took place from 1946 to 1954, members of the French military used extreme violence against non-violent groups, including civilians, political dissidents and prisoners of war. 

Asselin, SDSU’s Dwight E. Stanford Chair in U.S. Foreign Relations, set out to discover if this use of violence was part of an official military strategy, a theory many historians assume to be true but that has not, until now, received robust scholarly investigation. 

“I found fascinating, previously highly classified documents demonstrating that extreme violence against non-combatants was not situational, such as soldiers gone rogue, but structural and institutional,” said Asselin, who spent the previous summer conducting a review of Vietnamese records.

The historian is also a senior research fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies this summer, part of a cohort of scholars studying extreme forms of violence in post-1945 conflicts of decolonization. 

“While we all know wars are violent, we rarely fully understand the extent of the violence and the forces and other elements that inform it,” Asselin said. The Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies and SDSU’s Dwight E. Stanford endowment fund his research.

Deforestation and Sanitation in Brazil

How does deforestation of tropical rain forests alter critical environmental factors like rainfall and affect humans?

SDSU geographers Trent Biggs and Fernando De Sales are working in the Brazilian Amazon this month to investigate this question by studying how agriculture-based land use—mainly farming and ranching—is altering the climate of the Amazon and impacting the well-being of local communities. 

Scientists already know deforestation can cause a decline in rainfall, which harms the very agriculture enterprises that prompted deforestation. 

The SDSU geographers—along with colleagues from Salisbury University in Maryland, the University of North Carolina, New York University and the University of Montana—are looking to further understand the dynamic interaction between deforestation, water stress and land use decisions.

They are collecting soil samples; gathering data on land cover, climate and hydrology; interviewing farmers; and installing a weather station so they can continually monitor the area’s climate throughout the five-year study, funded by a $1.45 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

Meanwhile, the NSF is also funding a team of six SDSU students’ research on how culture and human perceptions inform sanitation infrastructure in Brazil.

Students are studying the technical engineering and science that informs wastewater treatment, such as how bacteria and viruses interact with solids, while also researching the nuanced role cultural norms and human behavior have on sanitation choices.

“We are bringing together students from very different disciplines to study these topics,” said engineering professor Mathew Verbyla, leader of the project. The students’ majors range from environmental engineering to urban studies. “We know that water and sanitation challenges cannot be solved by technology alone, but require a transdisciplinary approach that incorporates knowledge about human behavior and culture.”

Brazil, Verbyla said, is a great place to conduct the sanitation-related research because the country has developed wastewater treatment innovations used throughout the world. The students are working at a new sanitation technology research center affiliated with Brazil’s Federal University of Minas Gerais. 

The three-year, $300,000 grant is part of an effort by the NSF to encourage international research experience for students. 

Adventure Filming in Fiji

Sailing. Trekking. Canyoneering. Kayaking. 

An SDSU film professor will be covering it all as a producer on a new Amazon Prime television series that follows teams throughout the Fiji islands during a 10-day adventure race.

Teams will traverse 400 miles, tackling terrains that range from dense jungles to raging rivers. All the while, film professor Timothy Powell will follow the lead teams, directing camera crews on where and what to shoot, conducting  interviews with the athletes, and helping bring their stories to life in the as-yet untitled series.

Powell is an experienced producer for adventure-themed shows airing on networks like the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel and the USA Network, and filming in locales like China, Alaska and New Zealand.

For this production in August, Powell is bringing along SDSU seniors Katharina Hessen and Catherina Cojulun, who will work with the 300-person production team and help film, produce and promote the series.

“They'll be part of a huge production. There will be at least 30 camera operators, we’ll have helicopters, and the race course is spread out over everything from thick jungles to sandy beaches,” Powell said. “They’ll be exposed to a very high-end professional and intelligent production.”

Forests, French History and Filming in Fiji: Still More Summer Research Abroad
Faculty are conducting critical fieldwork in Fiji, France, Brazil and elsewhere.