Choppy sea

Water Cultures in Conflict at Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay, Alaska


Funded Phd


4 years

Application deadline:

29 March 2021

About the Leverhulme Centre for Water Cultures

The University of Hull's Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre for Water Cultures pioneers a new, humanities-led, interdisciplinary and transhistorical research area, the ‘green-blue humanities.’

It equips a new generation of PhD students to take this agenda forward, transforming our understanding of our relationships with water and shaping future research agendas, methods, and approaches within and between disciplines.

Join our webinar – Thursday 11 March 2021

We are hosting a free webinar to help you find out more about funded postgraduate research at the Leverhulme Centre for Water Cultures. Join us to hear from programme leaders, supervisors, students and researchers and ask any burning questions at the Q&A. Register here

About this project

This is an exciting opportunity for an ambitious, talented and enthusiastic researcher to conduct interdisciplinary research in order to advance thinking within the area of blue-green humanities through researching one of the world’s primary sites of contemporary water cultures in profound conflict – at Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Pebble Mine is the second-largest gold deposit in the world and if exploited, will yield up to $500 billion. However, it is also at the headwaters of two of the five major river drainages that supply the salmon runs of Bristol Bay, the world’s largest salmon run. Salmon underpin around 75% of all local jobs and the subsistence lifestyles of many Alaskan indigenous peoples. The United Tribes of Bristol Bay strongly oppose the 10 billion tons of toxic waste they say the mine will generate. For more information from WWF.

This interdisciplinary PhD project will explore the extent to which Pebble Mine is emblematic of a new, global dependence on rare metals and of a race for access to them capable of shaping the environmental agenda of the future. If successful, you will have the chance to shape your own research, following these central research questions:

  • How do canvassed and crowd-sourced interviews, corporate, state, federal, NGO data as well as tribal documents held at the University of Juneau bring debates, histories, and approaches surrounding Pebble Mine into critical and creative tension?
  • Can the world’s most emblematic water and environmental conflict provide an index to inform future debate and decision-making?
  • How significant are “portfolio effects” in relation to species diversity and the viability of salmon industry at Bristol Bay?
  • How have cultural representation, treaty rights and the history of colonisation impacted debate?
  • How significant has development theory been in North American resource-use contexts since the Brundtland report of 1987?
  • How does analysis of Pebble Mine inform thinking on “delocalised pollution”, as exemplified in recent books such as Guillaume Pitron’s, The Rare Metals War (Scribe, 2020)?


The project offers opportunities to work with the Treatied Spaces Research Cluster, its British Academy Global Professor Greg Smithers, the Department of Geography, Geology & Environment and the Energy and Environment Institute. You will be encouraged to disseminate your findings using kinetic mapping techniques.

The Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre for Water Cultures pioneers a new, humanities-led, interdisciplinary and transhistorical research area, the ‘green-blue humanities’

Find out more

The Energy & Environment Institute is a world leader in research into global water risks and resilience

Find out more

The University’s Risky Cities project draws on Hull’s long history of living with water to build flood resilience today and for the future

Find out more


Doctoral scholars appointed to interdisciplinary projects within the Centre for Water Cultures will be supported by PhD scholarships, funded for 48 months. These cover fees at the UK rate, a maintenance grant of £15609 per year, and a generous research and training support grant.

We expect to support at least 5, and up to 8, doctoral scholars to join the Centre for Water Cultures in September 2021. Further projects will be advertised in future years.

Entry requirements

We welcome applications for this funded 4-year PhD studentship, to start in September 2021.

You should have a good first degree (at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or international equivalent) in a relevant subject. Candidates with Masters in Environmental History, Geography, American Studies, Indigenous Studies, Hydrology or cognate disciplines are encouraged to apply. Having or being willing to work towards acquiring basic digital mapping capabilities is desirable.

International applicants

The Centre for Water Cultures welcomes applications from international candidates.

While the Leverhulme Trust funds fees at the UK rate, we are able to offer a limited number of international fee waivers to support EU and international applicants. These are likely to be attached to no more than 30% of our scholarships.

How to apply

Please follow the instructions on how to apply carefully as otherwise your application may not be considered.

Apply for the project Water Cultures in Conflict at Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay, Alaska.

You will need to provide the following supporting documents:

  1. CV of no more than 2 pages (Arial, minimum font 11 point, margins 2.54cm).
  2. Transcripts. (A transcript is proof of education. It is a detailed record of all the subjects you have studied with your scores in the form of marks or grades given by your institution of study.)
  3. Personal Statement: Please provide a personal statement, of no more than 800 words (Arial, minimum font 11 point, margins 2.54cm), outlining: (i) what motivates you to pursue PhD study; (ii) why you are interested in your chosen project; (iii) your research experience, including how your skill set matches the requirements for your choice of project and/or any additional training you will need; and (iv) the wider significance of research in this area and potential future research directions for the project.
  4. English Language qualifications where required. For more information, see our PG admissions page.