Jeff is a landscape archaeologist with an interest in the recent and contemporary past. His research has focused mainly on the colonial period of western Canada and improvement-period Britain. Within this context his work addresses issues such as cultural interaction, questions around social grouping, historiography and interdisciplinarity. He is currently involved in two projects. The first focuses on colonial settlement in the Canadian prairies where he is examining intercultural relations among migrant peoples. The second is investigating the archaeology of crofting at the Bennachie Colony in rural Aberdeenshire. The latter project includes a significant element of community engagement, which to date has encouraged a range of public events across the Northeast of Scotland.
Originally from the west coast of Canada, Jeff studied archaeology and history at Simon Fraser University (BA 1998). He worked as a consulting archaeologist in coastal and interior British Columbia before relocating to Sheffield in the United Kingdom where he read towards an MA in Landscape Archaeology (2001) and a PhD in Archaeology (2006), both under Mark Edmonds. Jeff joined the Department of Archaeology at Aberdeen in 2008 and was promoted to the position of Senior Lecturer in 2013. In addition to teaching, fieldwork and writing for the department, he is an Honorary Curatorial Fellow at the University Museums and Vice Chair of the Aberdeen and North-East Section of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Periods and Regional Interests
- Northwest Coast of North America: prehistory, colonial history
- Western Canada, 18th century to present day
- Britain, particularly later historic and contemporary
- Contact and colonial archaeology and history
- Interdisciplinary approaches to landscape
- Material culture studies
- The politics of heritage
- Archaeological resource management
Colonial Landscapes on the Northwest Coast of North America: My doctoral research investigated the social history of the Fraser Valley, Western Canada, from "pre-contact" to the unsettling and sometimes violent upheavals of nineteenth and early twentieth century colonialism. Drawing on a diverse range of artefacts - from material culture and ethnographic texts to cartography and historical writing - this project traced the contours of landscape transformations and the way that changes in the land were implicated in constructing different perceptions of history, identity and place among Natives and newcomers. In 2010 I published Landscapes and Social Transformations on the Northwest Coast (University of Arizona Press); the first book-length treatment of colonial landscape transformations for coastal British Columbia. Continuing research in this area combines a focus on material culture and landscape with an examination of the history of cultural contact. Because this period witnessed dramatic and yet asymmetric social and cultural change, it provides fertile ground in which to explore the varied ways that interaction affected the development of both indigenous and incoming societies and how this was resolved in different parts of the coast.
European migrant landscapes and intercultural relations in western Canada: From September 2012 I have been PI on a project working with Dr Ágústa Edwald investigating European migrant landscapes in western Canada during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This period witnessed the emergence of a new ethnic patchwork and presents significant opportunities to explore the consequences of intercultural relations. Did migrant communities maintain their cultural identity? Did they become assimilated into a broader Anglo-Canadian culture? Or did the give and take of living among newcomers produce altogether more complex and contingent outcomes? Influenced by historical conditions particular to the region, namely, the creation of migrant block settlements and a legacy of multiculturalism, historiography in this part of the world tends to orient our understanding of the cultural landscape in terms of what Brubaker and Cooper have called ‘identity history’. One of our principal observations to date is that that by focusing on relationships rather than boundaries, it is possible to locate spaces of sharing and communities of practice that cut across the fault lines of ethnic belonging. The broad brushstrokes of these ideas have been recently laid out in a position paper in the journal Cultural Geographies. Future research in this area will continue to examine the delicate interplay between people, material culture and landscapes, and in particular how local conditions, at different historical moments, helped to either separate people or to bring them together.
The Bennachie Landscape Project: Community Connections in the North-East of Scotland: A collaborative venture between the Bailies of Bennachie and the University of Aberdeen, this project focuses on past and present community relationships with land, resources and society in one of north-east Scotland's most celebrated landscapes: the hill of Bennachie and its environs. Previous research has demonstrated a wealth of multi-period archaeological remains, from a Pictish power centre to a nineteenth century crofting community, however, surprisingly little archaeological and historical research has been undertaken, presenting a unique opportunity to put historical communities into their landscape context. At the same time, contemporary community groups have a strong interest in managing and developing opportunities in this historic environment and so a second major plank of this research focuses on engaging local people to create a long-term sustainable strategy for community involvement.
Initial research has focused on the archaeology and history of the ‘Colony’ settlement – celebrated in the north-east for having been a site of tension between nineteenth-century crofter-colonists and neighbouring landowners. Our current work is focusing on various community agencies operating on the hill, how these changed over time and how they were linked to events and processes beyond the settlement. As the Colony provides a fascinating window on local-scale, micro-historical processes, our research serves to push beyond currently available generalized histories of 19th-century rural life. Our first interpretive statement on this topic was recently published in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology. Ongoing work at Bennachie is providing a platform to involve and develop future interests among the local community. In doing so, we expect to be taken in new and unexplored research directions.
2017-18 AHRC Follow-on Funding for Impact: Co-Investigator for the project Enacting the Past: Stories from the Colony to the Tatras (with PI Elizabeth Curtis and Co-Investigators)
2013-14 AHRC Research Development Grant: PI for the project Bennachie Landscapes: Investigating Communities Past and Present at the Colony Site (with Co-Investigators: Gordon Noble, Rick Knecht, Karen Milek, Jo Vergunst, Elizabeth Curtis, Neil Curtis, Jackson Armstrong, Marjory Harper, Siobhan Convery, James Schofield)
2013-14 AHRC Follow On Funding: Co-Investigator for the project Sharing All Our Stories Scotland (with PI Elizabeth Curtis and Co-Investigators)
2012-16 Leverhulme Trust Project Grant: PI for the project European migrant landscapes and intercultural relations in western Canada
2012-13 Arts and Humanities Research Council, Connected Communities Grant: Co-Investigator for the project Sustainable Community Heritage in Scotland's North-East: Bennachie and Beyond (PI Gordon Noble, and Co-Investigators Rick Knecht, Jo Vergunst, Elizabeth Curtis, Jackson Armstrong, Doreen Coyle, Peter Stollery and Ken Skeldon)
2012 Principal's Excellence Fund: Archaeological Theory and the Indigenization of Canada's Past. Grant to support participation in a session at the Canadian Archaeology Association conference, Montreal.
2011-12 Carnegie Trust Grant: Native-lived colonialism and culture change on Canada's west coast: A comparative approach
AY3513 North American Archaeology
AY3504 Archaeologies of Landscape
AY5501 Northern Peoples and Cultures
Other courses I teach on:
AY1003 Archaeology in Action: An Introduction
AY2503 Archaeology of Social Life
AY2505 Archaeology of the North: Lifeways and Culture Change
AY3009 Scottish Archaeology
AY4510 Current Issues in Archaeology
AY5001 Northern Worlds
AY5002 Theory and Method in Research
AY5502 Advanced Archaeological Approaches in Northern Research
Current Research Students
Chris Martin - An object-biographical investigation of the Northwest Coast American collections at the Perth Museum and Art Gallery
John Barrett - An assessment of medieval town planning in Northeast Scotland
Alistair Stenhouse - The landscape of Improvement in Easter Ross, 1700 to 1850
Michael Stratigos - The lost lochs: a reassesment of crannogs in Scotland
Former Research Students
John H. Goodlad - The Shetland cod fishery from 1811 to 1909 (PhD 2014).
Michael Bumstead - The Use and Impact of Canadian Beaver on Britain, 1750 - 1850 (PhD 2014).
Ágústa Edwald - From Iceland to New Iceland: An Archaeology of Migration, Continuity and Change in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (PhD 2012).
- Further Info
Vice Chair: Aberdeen and Northeast Section, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Member of the standing committee: Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT)
External Examiner: MA in Landscape Archaeology; MA in Cultural Heritage, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield.
Examinations Officer: Department of Archaeology
Coordinator: Certificate in Archaeology
Elected Member of Senate, School of Geosciences: Please contact me if you have any School-related matters that need to be raised in Senate.
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Contributions to Journals
- Armstrong, J., Miller, C. & Oliver, JM. (2017). 'Bringing Archives and Archaeology Together: community research at the Bennachie Colony'. Scottish Archives, vol 21, pp. 18-29.
- Edwald Maxwell, A. & Oliver, J. (2017). 'On decentring ethnicity in buildings research: The settler homestead as assemblage'. Journal of Social Archaeology, vol 17, no. 1, pp. 27-48.
[Online] DOI: 10.1177/1469605316680506
[Online] AURA: OnDecentringEthnicity_maintext_REVISON.pdf
- Oliver, J., Armstrong, J., Milek, K., Schofield, JE., Vergunst, J., Brochard, T., Gould, A. & Noble, G. (2016). 'The Bennachie Colony: A Nineteenth-Century Informal Community in Northeast Scotland'. International Journal of Historical Archaeology, vol 20, no. 2, pp. 341-377.
[Online] DOI: 10.1007/s10761-016-0336-7
[Online] AURA: OLIVER_et_al_The_Bennahcie_Colony_preproof.pdf
- Oliver, J. & Edwald, Á (2016). 'Between islands of ethnicity and shared landscapes: rethinking settler society, cultural landscapes and the study of the Canadian west'. Cultural Geographies, vol 23, no. 2, 2, pp. 199-219.
[Online] DOI: 10.1177/1474474014561576
[Online] AURA: Oliver_Edwald_2015_Cultural_Geographies_PreProof.docx
- Oliver, J. & Curtis, N. (2015). 'Placing the North'. Historical Archaeology, vol 49, no. 3, 2, pp. 7-20.
[Online] AURA: OLIVER_CURTIS_PreProof_PlacingNorth_Sept.docx
- Oliver, JM. & Curtis, N. (2015). 'Contemporary and Historical Archaeology of the North: an Introduction'. Historical Archaeology, vol 49, no. 3, 1, pp. 1-6.
- Oliver, J. (2011). 'On mapping and its afterlife: unfolding landscapes in northwestern North America'. World Archaeology, vol 43, no. 1, pp. 66-85.
[Online] DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2011.544899
- Oliver, J. (2007). 'Beyond the water's edge: Towards a social archaeology of landscape on the Northwest Coast'. Canadian Journal of Archaeology, vol 31, no. 1, pp. 1-27.
Reviews of Books, Films and Articles
- Oliver, JM. (2014). 'Review of Landscape and Identity in North America's Southern Colonies from 1660 to 1745, by Catherine Armstrong'. Landscape History, vol 35, no. 2, pp. 104-105.
[Online] DOI: 10.1080/01433768.2014.981397
- Oliver, JM. (2013). 'Review of Russian America: An Overseas Colony of a Continental Empire, 1804–1867, by Ilya Vinkovetsky'. Ethnohistory, vol 60, no. 1, pp. 156-158.
[Online] DOI: 10.1215/00141801-1642815