Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences


Professor Jason Dittmer appointed as next Head of Department, UCL Geography

27 March 2020

We are pleased to announce Professor Jason Dittmer’s appointment as the new Head of Department, UCL Geography, from autumn 2020. Professor Dittmer succeeds Professor Andrew Barry, who has been Head of Department since 2016.

Prof Jason Dittmer

As Professor of Political Geography at UCL, Jason is interested in re-thinking geopolitics through the lenses of materiality and assemblage. His recent book, Diplomatic Material: Affect, Assemblage, and Foreign Policy (Duke, 2017) is a re-thinking of diplomacy and international relations through the new materialism and relational space. His current research project looks at Gibraltar as the emergent product of a series of assemblages intersecting in a specific place.

We took the opportunity to ask Jason a few questions:

  1. Congratulations on your appointment! Please could you tell us about yourself?
    Thank you very much! I’m very excited to have been appointed to this position. I have been at UCL since 2007, and being Head of Department at UCL is something I never could have imagined 13 years ago when I started here. Something about me? I’m American, but I’ve been in London long enough now to be uncomfortable answering this question. I suppose I’m pretty cheerful, and generally up for new experiences. Which is probably how I ended up Head of Department, now that I think of it.
  2. As a discipline, Geography is vital to how the world’s urgent concerns are understood and addressed, from climate change to migration, environmental management and geopolitics. As a world-leading department, what are UCL Geography’s main areas of focus?
    UCL Geography is an amazing department, full of unbelievably impressive people from whom I learn every day. We have a series of foci across the breadth of the discipline, from climate change to Big Data to the politics of environmental management to cities and migration. I think what makes us distinctive though is how we think across human geography and physical geography in a synthetic, interdisciplinary approach to studying the world. At a time when many departments are focusing on just a few areas of expertise, we remain committed to the whole enterprise. For instance, in our new First Year curriculum we ensure that all students receive half their credits in modules that aren’t just human geography or physical geography, but are disciplinary in scope.
  3. What will be your priorities as the incoming Head of Department?
    First, I would like to maintain the culture of openness to reform that the current Head of Department, Andrew Barry, has instilled in the department. That new culture has been key to improving the student experience in the last few years, and while major teaching reforms are probably unnecessary the current coronavirus shows how quickly things can be upended. The whole context of UK Higher Education may look different in the coming years, and a nimble, reform-minded department will be better placed to respond.

    Second, coming to the end of one REF cycle means that we can institute some reforms to the organisation of our research that will benefit the next REF, which will happen when I am no longer in office. I would like to empower some of our senior research leaders to produce a stronger sense of community in our research groups, which would help support our PhD students and early career researchers. Just because we are doing well at research doesn’t mean things can’t get better!

    Finally, I want to ensure that UCL Geography remains a supportive learning community that is committed to its members at all levels. Part of that is ensuring that staff and student workloads don’t exceed what we can reasonably ask of people. The coronavirus ‘online pivot’ shows how capable and flexible our staff and students can be on short notice, but we can’t ask people to maintain such loads indefinitely. So I want to work towards improved quality of life and mental health for everyone in the Department.
  4. What excites you most about becoming Head of Department, and what do you think some of the challenges might be?
    I am excited about being Head of Department because it is a real honour, and I deeply care about both the Department of Geography and UCL, both of which have done so much for me. I enjoy the students and my colleagues, and trying to make their lives better is a really inspiring task. The challenges are obvious: the 24/7 nature of the small fires that will need fighting, and the occasional hurricane that will gather force, like coronavirus. I can see how overwhelming the job can get.
  5. Becoming Head of Department will keep you very busy! How do you relax when you’re not working?

    Well, I have a six-year-old who keeps me laughing when I’m not working. I’m also a big fan of American football, especially the Jacksonville Jaguars. So my Sundays in the autumn are reserved for that. In recent years I have also gotten into escape rooms, and I’ve even started researching them for a paper sometime, although that is probably just a thin excuse just to do more escape rooms.

Commenting on the appointment, Professor Sasha Roseneil, Dean of the Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences, said,

“ I am extremely pleased that Jason will be taking over at the helm of our brilliant Department of Geography this summer. Andrew Barry has done a superb job as Head of Department, and will hand over the leadership of one of the strongest and most comprehensive groups of geographers in the world. I look forward to working with Jason, and all his colleagues, as the Department faces head- on the challenges of the current Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath, and tackles, in its research and teaching, other global issues, particularly sustainability and environmental change, migration, global inequalities and the acceleration of urbanisation. We need a vibrant, forward-looking Department of Geography at UCL more than ever, and I have every confidence that it will continue to flourish with Jason as Head.”

Professor Andrew Barry, current Head of Department, said

“Jason Dittmer is both a brilliant scholar and a fantastic teacher. What a wonderful appointment as our new Head of Department.”

About UCL Geography

The Department of Geography at UCL is a world-leading centre for teaching, research and public engagement. Recently ranked 8th in the QS ranking of the world’s top Geography departments, UCL Geography has research clusters in timely and important topics such as Environment, Politics, and Society, Culture and Migration, Past Climates, Recent Environmental Change and Biodiversity, Global Urbanism, Environmental Modelling and Observation, and Geospatial Analytics and Computing.

Each cluster is linked to an MSc programme, allowing synergies to form between the department’s dynamic research agenda and its broader learning community. Recent reform of the department’s undergraduate teaching has produced large gains in student satisfaction, and UCL Geography is strongly committed to student learning and experience.

Professor Dittmer will become Head of Department on 1 September 2020.