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Joshua MacFadyen

Joshua MacFadyen
Senior Sustainability Scholar, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability
Assistant Professor, School of Sustainability
Assistant Professor, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

School of Sustainability
Arizona State University
PO Box 875502
Tempe, AZ 85287-5502

Joshua MacFadyen is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies and the School of Sustainability. His work examines the social and ecological problems of energy in Canadian and U.S. agriculture, particularly during the transition from traditional to modern agro-ecosystems. His research on energy consumption in Canada demonstrates that our sense of the transition from organic to fossil fuels is premature; due to cold climates and stable woodlots Canadians remained predominantly “hewers of wood” until after the Second World War. As a co-investigator with the Sustainable Farm Systems project at the University of Saskatchewan he examines the Energy Return on Investment of modern agriculture, comparing study sites in the Canadian-American plains as well as his own case study in Prince Edward Island, Canada. This international team advances multi-scale systems perspectives and socio-ecological metabolism as a theory of historical change.

With a PhD from the University of Guelph (Ontario) and postdoctoral fellowships at Western University (Ontario) and the University of Saskatchewan, Joshua has helped lead some of the foremost environmental history programs in Canada. He coordinates the Energy Working Group for the Sustainable Farm Systems project, and he is an editor for NiCHE: Network in Canadian History & Environment. At Western he helped facilitate the largest transfer ever of Canadian federal government documents (historical climate records from Environment Canada) to a university, and he organized an interdisciplinary and international workshop to discuss how the records could be digitized for public use. He has also managed traditional land use mapping and climate change adaptation projects for groups like the Institute of Island Studies and the Mi’Kmaq Confederacy (Prince Edward Island). He edits The Otter ~ La loutre blog on Canadian environmental history and the Geospatial Historian, a set of online tutorials to help build practical skills in digital mapping and historical GIS.

PhD, History, University of Guelph, 2010

MA, History, University of Waterloo, 2003

BA, History, University of Prince Edward Island, 2002

Journal Articles


Novaczek, I., J. MacFadyen and D. Bardati. 2010. L’utilisation de la cartographie des valeurs sociales et culturelles comme outil dans l’adaptation aux changements climatiques : Exemple d’un projet pilote à l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard (Canada). VertigO 10(3):. DOI: 10.4000/vertigo.10644. (link )


MacFadyen, J. D. 2009. Breaking sod or breaking even? Flax on the northern Great Plains and prairies, 1889-1930. Agricultural History 83(2):221-246. DOI: 10.3098/ah.2009.83.2.221. (link )


MacFadyen, J. D. 2005. The Perine flax and lumber mills in Ontario, 1854-1871. Waterloo Historical Society 93(2005):51-75.


MacFadyen, J. D. 2004. "Nip the noxious growth in the bud": Ortenberg v. Plamondon and the roots of Canadian anti-hate activism. Canadian Jewish Studies/Etudes juives canadiennes 12(2004):73-96. (link )

Book Chapters

In Press

MacFadyen, J. D. Hewers of wood: A history of wood energy in Canada. In: Sandwell, R. ed., Powering Up: A History of Fuel, Power and Energy in Canada, 1800-2015. McGill-Queen's University Press.

MacFadyen, J. D. Spinning flax in mills, households, and the Canadian state, 1850-1870. In: Murton, J., D. Bavington and C. Dokis eds., Bringing Subsistence Out of the Shadows: Nature and Economy in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. McGill-Queen's University Press.

MacFadyen, J. D. The Fertile Crescent: Agricultural land use on Prince Edward Island, 1861-1971. In: MacDonald, E., J. D. MacFadyen and I. Novaczek eds., Time and a Place: An Environmental History of Prince Edward Island. McGill-Queen's University Press.


MacFadyen, J. D. and W. Glen. 2014. Top-down history: Delimiting forests, farms, and the census of agriculture on Prince Edward Island using aerial photography, ca. 1900-2000. Pp. 197-233 In: Bonnell, J. and M. Fortin eds., Historical GIS Research in Canada. University of Calgary Press. ISBN: 978-1552387085.


MacFadyen, J. D. 2013. Drawing lines in the ice: Regulating mussel mud digging in the southern gulf of St. Lawrence. Pp. 99-119 In: Campbell, C. and R. Summerby-Murray eds., Land and Sea: Environmental History in Atlantic Canada. Acadiensis. Fredericton. ISBN: 978-0919107243.



MacFadyen, J. D. 2015. Hewers of wood: A history of wood biomass energy in Canada, 1850-1950. Poster presented at the European Society for Environmental History, Versailles, France.


MacFadyen, J. D. and A. MacEachern. 2013. Time flies: Aerial photography and landscape change on Prince Edward Island, 1930-2010. Poster presented at the American Society for Environmental History, April 3-6, 2013, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (link )



MacFadyen, J. D. 2015. Hewers of wood: Biomass energy in Canada, 1850-1950. Presentation at the 23rd Biennial Conference of the Association of Canadian Studies in the United States, October 14-17, 2015, Las Vegas, NV. (link )


MacFadyen, J. D. 2014. A cold confederation: Urban energy linkages in Canada. Presentation at the The Dominion of Nature: Canadian Confederation and the Environment Workshop, July 31, 2014, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.