Geographer wins Dean of Arts award

by Susan Stern
Staff writer

Historical geographer Prof. Cole Harris has earned the 1998/1999 Dean of Arts Award.

The $5,000 award, established by an anonymous donor, is equal in value to the Killam Teaching Prize and recognizes exceptional contributions by a faculty member in teaching, research, administration and service.

"I've won a number of awards but this one comes from my own community. I was a student here in the 1950s and I've been on campus on and off for 45 years," says Harris. "UBC is my home and an award coming from home is particularly meaningful."

Undergraduate and graduate students, alumni and colleagues unanimously supported the award to Harris for his contributions as a teacher in the Geography Dept. as well as his work as a scholar and an editor.

Dean of Arts Shirley Neuman says Harris has had a tremendous impact on students with his passion for and deep knowledge about his subject.

"Students come out of his courses not only knowing a great deal more about the evolution of Canada but caring about it," says Neuman.

Harris has taught geography at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He has also supervised numerous PhD students who have gone on to distinguished academic careers in Canada, the United States and Great Britain.

One of his most established courses, Geography 327 and its sequel 328, explore the historical geography of Canada. Harris scored high marks from his students for course content and his ability to make the subject matter relevant, interesting and challenging.

Harris has also made major contributions to the understanding of the evolution of Canada, and particularly British Columbia, as it relates to the interaction between First Nations' people and immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

His books include Canada Before Confederation, Historical Atlas of Canada, Vol. 1, and The Resettlement of British Columbia: Essays on Colonialism and Geographical Change.

After almost three decades, Harris remains enthusiastic about his work and the Geography Dept.

"I enjoy the greatly varied interests of my colleagues and being in a department that studies both culture and nature," he says. "I think the perspective that geography brings to people and land, to people and place, is particularly important in a big, raw-boned land like Canada."

Harris has also been very involved in the community, serving on the board of the Vancouver Museum as well as giving many public lectures.

"The university must try to connect its scholarship to the communities that support it. Our research should give people a richer understanding of the province," he says.

He has received many prestigious awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a senior Killam Fellowship, and an honorary Doctor of Laws from York University. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Harris recently completed two years as the Brenda and David McLean Chair in Canadian Studies.

Each year the Dean of Arts Award is given in the name of a distinguished emeritus professor. This year it is named for Prof. J. Ross Mackay, one of Canada's foremost Arctic scientists and one of the creators of the Geography Dept.