PhD Studentship: A spatio-temporal analysis of the changing nature of traditional fire knowledge

PhD Studentship: A spatio-temporal analysis of the changing nature of traditional fire knowledge

We welcome applications for four year fully funded PhD titled “A spatio-temporal analysis of the changing nature of traditional fire knowledge“, in the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway University of London.

The studentship will be supervised by Professor Jay Mistry, Co-Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society and Dr Daniele Colombaroli, both in the Department of Geography.

It will be funded at £17,609 stipend per annum including London allowance (rising in line with annual increments) with Home fees paid for four years full-time equivalent. There will be support funding for fieldwork and conference attendance. The studentship is available from October 2021, or as soon as possible thereafter.


The Studentship:

Traditional fire knowledge can be defined as fire-related knowledge, beliefs, and practices that have been developed and applied on specific landscapes for specific purposes by long time inhabitants. This knowledge is adapted over time through everyday life experiences of repetition, learning and experimentation, and is therefore not static but constantly changing. Although we have an adequate evidence base for how people burn and why, we know little about how fire knowledge is transmitted between people and generations, and how this knowledge has adapted to local environmental changes. For Indigenous and local communities, fire knowledge is a collective, social memory that has been transferred, reinforced and re-worked through habits or rituals, oral communication, institutions of knowledge and/or physical/spiritual forms and artefacts. Despite the dynamic nature of fire knowledge, rapidly changing social, environmental and political conditions, and histories of colonisation over the last centuries have affected traditional modes of communication and social memory-making. Today, nature conservation, institutional fire management, international fire initiatives, Indigenous rights movements and climate change all impact how, when and where fire knowledge is created.

This project will investigate how traditional fire knowledge is transmitted, the impacts of climate change on changing fire management practices and fire knowledge, and new modes and spaces for knowledge transmission. In particular, it will look at the shared or social memory of fire knowledge and how that adapts and evolves in response to a dynamic social and environmental context. The project may involve a mixture of data collection techniques including participatory methods, interviews, archival work, historical climate proxies, and remote sensing. The spatial scale and geographic location of the research is open to the student.


The student will be part of the Department of Geography’s Geopolitics, Development, Security and Justice (GDSJ) Research Group. The GDSJ group works on issues of mobility, security, governance, justice and rights across political, development, environmental and social geography, both in and across the Global North and Global South including the UK and Overseas Territories, the Arctic and Antarctica, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

As well as working with GDSJ, the student will be supported by scholars working in the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society ( established in 2019. The Centre is comprised of social and natural scientists from Imperial College, Kings College, Royal Holloway and University of Reading, working together to create a new, integrative science of wildfire. The aim of the Centre is: to understand what factors govern wildfire regimes, including the sources, frequency, intensity, timing, and spatial pattern of fire; develop ways of predicting fire risks that include new biophysical understanding and account more reflexively for human-environment dynamics; quantify the impacts of fire on natural processes and human systems, including assessing their economic consequences and wider cultural meanings; and develop ideas for living with fire. The student will therefore join a vibrant interdisciplinary research community with a joint vision of producing evidence-based understanding of the human-fire nexus that can help inform policy and practice.

The supervisors:

Prof Mistry’s research lies in environmental management and governance. The central concept running through her work is that environmental management and governance should not be top-down implementation of external expertise, but must involve active local participation building upon local and Indigenous knowledges and practices. Her work converges environmental and social science methods, within a framework of participatory action research using participatory methods. She has long-term research experience of fire management and collaborations with Indigenous communities in Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela.

Dr Daniele Colombaroli’s research interests are in biogeography, fire ecology and long-term ecology, including tropical palaeoecology and dendroecology. His research projects have examined species and community responses to climate variability, the role of fire in the Anthropocene, and the origin of “iconic” cultural landscapes. His work is oriented towards the applications of long-term ecological data for forest management and biodiversity conservation.


How to apply:

The applicant will have a good undergraduate degree in geography, environmental sciences or an allied field. They will either have, or be working towards, a masters or equivalent in a relevant field. They will have experience of fieldwork, particularly working in local community settings. They will have experience of writing to high standards, and a willingness to work in interdisciplinary teams. Some background experience of using mixed methods in research is an advantage.

Applicants should submit:

i) A CV (max 2 sides) including details of two academic references;

ii) A cover letter outlining their qualifications and interest in the studentship (max 2 sides);

iii) A sample of written work up to 2000 words.

These should be sent by email to and by 28/05/2021. Interviews will take place in June 2021.

For further information on the project, please contact Jay Mistry ( and Daniele Colombaroli (