Association of American Geographers
About AAG Membership Annual Meeting Projects & Programs Education Publications Calendar Of Events Jobs & Careers

Student Councilor

(one to be elected)


Matthew Pflaum

MATTHEW PFLAUM. PhD student, University of Florida (Geography). MSc (International development/African studies), University of Edinburgh; MPH (global health/infectious disease), Emory University); BA (physical anthropology/biology), Grinnell College.

Service to Geography and the AAG: I am currently a first-year PhD student, but have already registered to attend AAG’s National Conference in the Spring of 2020, where I hope to present a short presentation on my current research. I plan to attend conferences each year, and also the additional regional ones.

Awards and Honors: I have a PhD graduate assistantship for my current degree. I have won a number of grants and awards previously. While at Edinburgh, I received funding to do my field-work in eastern Cameroon studying conflict between herders and farmers. I also received a small grant to organize an election coverage event in Edinburgh for the 2017 Ghanaian election. I organized the event to bring awareness to other international elections and their significance in global politics, given that people had election event parties for the UK or USA elections but rarely African countries. I was also an international fellow from 2011-2012 at BRAC University in Bangladesh, where I researched health systems.

Grants: My current PhD is funded with a graduate assistantship and later through my advisor’s funding agency, OECD.

Publications: I am preparing a current paper that focuses on fractionalism and fragmentation of different groups within Africa and how that relates to their joining violent extremist organizations. I am interested in the potential of intrinsic factors behind dynamics of VEO formation. I have previously published some articles: Pflaum, M. 2017. God, grass, grazing, and government: The role of ethnic associations in ameliorating the marginalisation of Mbororo as the ‘forever strangers’ in East Region, Cameroon. Postgrads from the edge. Pflaum, M. 2017. Why doesn’t anybody care about Chad? Leviathan Journal Vol. VII Issue II. Pflaum, M. 2016. Africa: A fight for Equality. Leviathan Journal Vol. VII Issue I.

Research and Teaching Interests: My research interests center on pastoralists in the Sahel and their relationship with other groups and states. Principally, I’m interested in the reasons and factors for them choosing violence, particularly as it relates to borders, migration, governance, ethnicity, and language. Another interest is in the concept of fragmentation/fractionalization. What is the relationship between alliance formation or fragmentation of VEO’s and their recruited members? Though fragmentation of societies and countries has been measured previously, we do not have good estimates or measurements for tribal or ethnic fragmentation. As far as teaching, I am currently a TA for Geography of Africa, which I really enjoy. In the Spring I will teach Population Geography. I am very excited to teach this class, as it has a lot of subjects and areas which are really important to me – refugees, migration, population density, fertility trends, resources, etc.

Statement: I am sincerely passionate about geography. I believe it is a critical discipline that has become increasingly important during the contemporary period. Geography is a unique and privileged position to address a number of important research topics – climate change, migration, violence, population growth, and health and disease. My research in violence in the Sahel can be uniquely studied using geography and bridges physical and human/political sides of geography. It addresses issues of space (through migration, GIS, spatial networks, etc.) and also the social side (ethnicity, language, borders, etc.). As somebody who studies a neglected region of the world, the Sahel, I’m also interested in bringing attention to research in this area. I will be a passionate advocate for the discipline, learn about current research in geography, and be a bridge between young geographers and experts in the field.

I have an interdisciplinary background. I first studied physical anthropology and biology at Grinnell College. I spent 3 months interning at an HIV NGO in northern Thailand and 7 months doing study abroad and field-work in Tanzania. This early experience in Africa ignited a passion for understanding Africa. I followed my undergraduate degree with an MPH in global health and infectious disease at Emory University. I did my practicum while there at Pasteur Institute in Bangui, Central African Republic. I decided to go there during the civil war of the mid-2000’s. It was eye-opening to be engaged in such critical research (studying poliovirus) during such turmoil. Since then, I decided I want to do research in the Sahel, given it is one of the more volatile regions of the world, and do research on issues that can make real-world impacts. Since my first experience in Tanzania, when I got to spend a few days with the Hadzabe nomadic group, I have discovered a passion for pastoralists and nomads. I believe they are among the most marginalized of all groups in the world. The Tuaregs and Fulani of the Sahel are two such groups who have unfortunately developed a reputation for violence. I hope my PhD allows me to better understand the dynamics of violence for these two groups in the Sahel in terms of achieving greater rights, recognition, and resources. Geography is an incredible multi-disciplinary discipline that studies space around the world and I’m proud to be a blossoming member of the field.


John "Jack" Swab

JOHN “JACK” SWAB. Graduate Student, University of Kentucky. B.S. and B.A., 2017, Penn State University

Service to Geography: Treasurer, Dimensions of Political Ecology (DOPE) Conference, 2019-Present. Graduate Committee Student Representative, University of Kentucky (2019-2020). Undergraduate Committee Student Representative, Penn State (2015-2017).

Publications: I have published an article with the Journal of Maps and Geography Libraries, documenting early mapping efforts in northeastern Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. Additionally, I have published multiple book reviews with Cartographic Perspectives and Antipode and am in the process of writing another for Historical Geography. Finally, I am working on a paper with Jack Gieseking exploring the role of early gay travel guides in the construction of gayborhoods.

Awards, Honors, & Grants: Urban Geography Specialty Group Graduate Student Fellowship (2019). Cartography Specialty Group Master’s Student Award (2019). Ralph Brown Graduate Paper Award, Historical Geography Specialty Group AAG (2019). University of Oklahoma Libraries Data Acquisition Grant (2018). Jeff Gockley Memorial Award, Penn State Department of Geography (2016). Penn State Rodney Erickson Summer Discovery Grant—awarded to conduct research in spatial history at Stanford University (2015).

Research & Teaching Interests: I am an interdisciplinary geographer broadly interested in the nexus of human geography and GIS/cartography. Specifically, I examine how urban and economic topics intersect with the map, technological evolution in cartography, and the information management of geospatial data. I also have interests in the intellectual history of geography, map studies, and their impacts on current scholarship. Other budding areas of interest include the digital political ecology of geospatial services and queer urban spatial histories.

Statement: Having attended geography programs at three flagship state universities within the past four years (Penn State for undergrad, University of Oklahoma for a year, and University of Kentucky currently), I believe that I have unique insight into the strengths and weakness of the discipline and the mindset of young geographers. I understand the challenges and precarity of undergraduate and graduate student life, having transferred in the midst of my master’s to the University of Kentucky. Moreover, as someone who discovered geography in high school and has long had to contemplate what life might look like after my degree, I understand the challenges of finding employment with a geography degree.

If elected to the Student Councilor position, I would focus on the following issues:

  1. Understanding the job market in industry and the academy. While geographers have always struggled to easily find jobs, as a discipline we are not doing enough to prepare young geographers for life after university. At the undergraduate level the decline in the numbers of “capital-G” geography majors is reflective of the difficulties in defining what one can do with geography outside of a GIS position. Similarly, at the graduate level, declining numbers of tenure-track positions requires a better response from the discipline. Finding ways to mobilize geography graduate’s skillsets and better understanding how our own academic job market operates are key to this effort. Other academic organizations, such as the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association have led efforts to address these issues within their own disciplines. Geographers need to be proactive on these issues, especially in light of declining support for higher education. Clearing the air around student job placement can only help young geographers and solidify geography’s disciplinary reputation.
  2. Addressing the affordability of the AAG. While the AAG has made strides in maintaining/reducing costs for attendance at both the annual and regional meetings, there is still much work to be done on this front. Highly variable costs in lodging and travel in an era of low support for students requires a rethinking of the way in which we present scholarship and network in the discipline. These issues naturally combine with efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the annual meeting: as a discipline, geography can be a leader in rethinking the annual academic conference model.
  3. Increasing Underrepresented Scholars. Over the past several years, geography has stood strong in promoting and supporting more inclusive environments and underrepresented scholars. However, in recognizing that these efforts are multi-generational, it is time for fundamental structural changes to allow time for these efforts to reach their full potential. Exploring additional efforts at the student level around removing barriers to attending AAG meetings would enhance ongoing efforts to expand the discipline’s reach.
  4. Supporting “Best Practices” for Geography Students. Past Student Councilors Sarah Stinard-Kiel and Sara Diamond have done excellent work in supporting the creation of a “best practices” guide for the operations of graduate geography programs. Building off of this success, I would support continued leadership by the AAG in documenting and sharing best practices in graduate education, advising, and other administrative matters.

I would be honored to serve in this position and work to make our association and discipline better.