Transportation and Infrastructure; Animal Geographies and Transport Animals; Forest-Based Livelihoods; Social Movements and Rebellions; Cartography and Cosmography; History of Geographic Thought


My research looks at methods of mobility which have become disinvested from or marginalized in the modern world. Mostly, my analytical focus is on querying the extent to which that marginalization has been driven by  dynamics besides technical "outcompetition" and "obsolescence." Recently, my research has brought me to Burma (Myanmar) and to Arunachal Pradesh, India, to look at the present-day use of trained Asian elephants for transportation in forested and flood-prone areas (forms of mobility not easily replaced by motor technology). I’ve also written about the decline of canal transport in Britain, Ireland and Canada, and about the relationship between urban deindustrialization and urban transportation planning in New York City.

Currently (2020), I am at the early stages of two projects: one on the ecological advantages of the "wading horse" convoys in today's Wadden Sea region in northern Germany; the other on the relationship between Eurasian rail geographies and the geopolitics and cosmographies of the steppe empires associated with historical central Eurasia. My research usually pivots between two ontological lenses, which can loosely be grouped as materialist (dialectical and "progressivist") and humanist (cosmographical and "cyclicist")--a duality I've found is useful for thinking in terms of society and nature simultaneously. Qualitative mapping techniques and thematic geovisualization tend to loom large for me: I make, present, collect and write about maps, which can be seen on my Carbonmade website.

Curriculum Vitae


Selected Publications


Shell, J. (2019). Giants of the Monsoon Forest: Living and Working with Elephants. New York: W.W. Norton. 

Shell, J. (2015), Transportation and Revolt: Pigeons, Mules, Canals, and the Vanishing Geographies of Subversive Mobility. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

  • Review by Dawn Biehler in Technology and Culture
  • Review by Jason Henderson in Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography 
  • Review by Nicolas Klein in Journal of Transport Geography


  • Shell, J. (2021), "Elephant Riders of the Hukawng Valley, Kachin State: Evasive Mobility and Vadological Geography." Journal of Burma Studies 25 (2). 
  • Shell, J. (2019), “The Enigma of the Asian Elephant: Sovereignty, Reproductive Nature, and the Limits of Empire.”  Annals of the American Association of Geographers 109 (4), 1154-1171.
  • Shell, J. (2019), “Verkehr, or, Subversive Mobility: Recovering Radical Transportation Geographies from Language,” Human Geography 11 (3), 11-29. PDF here.
  • Shell, J. (2018), “Elephant Convoys Beyond the State: Animal-Based Transport as Subversive Logistics.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Online copy published, page assignment pending.
  • Shell, J. (2017), “Mapping the Geography in Karl Marx’s Capital,” Digital Scholarship in the HumanitiesMap PDF link.
  • Shell, J. (2015), “When Roads Cannot Be Used: The Use of Trained Elephants for Emergency Logistics, Off-Road Conveyance, and Political Revolt in South and Southeast Asia.” Transfers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies 5(2), 62-80. PDF here.
  • Shell, J. (2014). “Elephant States.” n+1 volume 18. 127-144.
  • Shell, J. (2010), “Innovation, Labor and Gridlock: The Unbuilt Freight Plan for Manhattan’s Geography of Production.” Journal of Planning History 9(1), 3-20. PDF link.

Conference Presentations

  • 2019. "Vadological Transportation: Elephants, Horses, and other Fording Animals in Times of Flood." Delivered to the Hansa to Lufthansa Conference at University of Cambridge, Cambridge UK. 
  • 2018:“The Question of ‘Chenango’ Labor: World War I, Urban Class Conflict, and the Re-Planning of Freight Flows in New York City.” Delivered to The American Association of Geographers Conference, New Orleans.
  • 2017: “Working Elephants, Mahouts, and Roadless Transport Labor in the Indo-Burmese Borderlands.” Delivered to the Indian Ocean World Centre, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
  • 2017: “Burma’s Unique Population of Trained Elephants: Conservation and Co-production of Mobility.” Delivered to The American Association of Geographers Conference, Boston.
  • 2016. “Transport Animals and Subversive Mobility.” States of Circulation Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • 2016. “Animal Mobilities and Scrambled Maps: Creative Cartography and Mapping Geography Which Is ‘Hard to Map.’” Annual Association of American Geographers Conference, San Francisco, USA.
  • 2016. Discussant for “Interrogating the Anthropocene in the Himalayan Region: Hazards, Infrastructure, and Environmental Justice.” Annual Association of American Geographers Conference, San Francisco, USA.
  • 2015. “How to Get Around in Zomia: Human-Elephant Mobilities Beyond the State.” Annual Association of American Geographers Conference, Chicago, USA.
  • 2015. Chair and Organizer of “Geographies of Zomia: Implications of James C. Scott’s Art of Not Being Governed for Geographic Research and Knowledge” Paper Session. Annual Association of American Geographers Conference, Chicago, USA.
  • 2015. “Transportation and Revolt.” Border Sessions, The Hague, The Netherlands.
  • 2014. “Coproduction of Human-Elephant Mobilities in Southeast Asia.” Annual Royal Geographical Society Conference, London UK.
  • 2012. Chair and Co-Organizer (with Kafui Attoh) of “Placing Justice and Struggle in Transportation Studies” Paper Session. Annual Association of American Geographers Conference, New York City, USA.

Courses Taught

  • GUS 2002 Space and Place
  • GUS 3001 Images of the City
  • GUS 5159 Geographic Inquiry
  • GUS/ENST 3307, GUS 5307 Transportation and Culture
  • GUS/ENST 3061, GUS 5061 Fundamentals of Cartography
  • GUS 5000 Special Topics: Mobility