Elizabeth Oglesby to Receive AAG Gilbert White Public Service Honors

In recognition of her contributions to human rights practice as well as research and teaching through theoretically-informed ethnographic research and the courage to share her results in the most public of forums, the Association of American Geographers is pleased to confer the Gilbert White Public Service Honors Award to Dr. Elizabeth Oglesby.

A citation for Elizabeth Oglesby follows. 

Elizabeth Oglesby, University of Arizona


Dr. Elizabeth Oglesby is awarded the Association of American Geographers 2014 Gilbert White Public Service Honors in recognition of her contributions to human rights research and practice. Her ethnographic fieldwork began in the 1980s and has led to uniquely valuable testimony on the displacement and violence suffered by Guatemalan Mayans. She has made it a point to collaborate and disseminate her research locally; through teaching and coordinating a study abroad program, she has also has introduced hundreds of students to human rights issues. Her integration of academic research and teaching with public service is truly exemplary.

As a research assistant to anthropologist Beatriz Manz, Oglesby helped to conduct some of the first field research in Guatemala on refugee repatriation. She was a researcher for Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack, who was assassinated by the Guatemalan army for her work on Mayan displacement and genocide. Along with other members of Myrna Mack’s research team, Oglesby completed and published Mack’s work. She was later asked to contribute to Guatemala’s Truth Commission on the history of armed conflict in Guatemala and its impacts on the Mayan population. With the Latin American Studies Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, she co-organized a fact-finding mission to Guatemala in 2002 on human rights and academic freedom (co-sponsored by the AAG), as well as ongoing campaigns in support of threatened scholars in Guatemala. When the Truth Commission’s findings resulted in charges against the former Guatemalan head of state for genocide and crimes against humanity (the first genocide trial to be held in regular domestic courts within the country where the crimes were committed), Oglesby’s report and testimony on the geography of displaced populations and the importance of territorial control contributed to an initial guilty verdict. (A higher court later reversed the decision, but a new trial is scheduled for 2015).

She has also contributed to similar work in other regions of the world, speaking at international human rights conferences in South Africa, Turkey, Costa Rica, Germany and the UK. Within the US, she regularly serves as an expert witness in political asylum cases involving Central Americans.

Oglesby’s commitment to public service can be found in her home university as well. As faculty coordinator for the University of Arizona’s study abroad program to Guatemala, Liz has supervised approximately 300 students. She is also on the Executive Committee of the university’s Global Human Rights Direct Project, which coordinates human rights activists with educators from across the university. She teaches courses on Latin America and human rights at the undergraduate and graduate levels, bringing her personal experience into the classroom. In 2013, she was awarded the Excellence in Advising and Mentoring Award by the Honors College of the University of Arizona.

In short, to use the words of one of the nominating letters, “I can think of no one more worthy in the field of geography at this time for recognition as a scholar dedicated to excellence in research and in public service.”