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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Elizabeth Nyman

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Elizabeth Nyman is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science department with an interest in oceans, islands, and pirates! Dr. Nyman’s main area of interest is international maritime law and conflict, looking at how countries manage their ocean borders or disputed areas. Sometimes they do so through international courts, sometimes through negotiation, and sometimes by the threat of violence. In the course of examining ocean conflicts, I developed my secondary interest of island studies, as many ocean borders can be found amongst the mostly island states of the Caribbean and Oceania regions. International piracy is actually more interesting from a legal perspective than it is as an example of conflict – the international law currently in place to fight piracy has real limitations – and so that stemmed more from her interest in the law of the sea.

Dr. Nyman is currently working on a book manuscript examining areas of past and potential international ocean conflict. She also plans to examine the construction of US maritime policy, building on my recent experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, but that project is still in the conceptual stages.

Dr. Nyman grew up on the ocean, on the Atlantic coast of Florida, so she has long been attuned to ocean issues. As a major in international relations at the College of William and Mary, she learned about the Cod Wars in her international law class. The Cod Wars are a funny named conflict between Iceland and the UK over fishing for cod, and she thought it was the most fascinating idea that people could fight over ocean resources like that. When Dr. Nyman started graduate school, oceanic conflict was the topic of her first research paper, and she never looked back.

When asked where her research has taken her, Dr. Nyman responded by saying that it has taken her not quite around the world, but certainly to a number of different places. She has conducted research in Canada, Iceland, Barbados, and on a ship in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, as well as here in the United States. Dr. Nyman is actively pursuing more opportunities as well. She responded that from a more figurative perspective, studying international ocean conflict has been very useful in discovering interesting insights into the cultures of small island developing states (called SIDS by the United Nations), and some of the economic and environmental problems they face. She further indicated that she has learned a lot about different kinds of international conflict as well – not just maritime conflicts, though they’re her specialty, but how they compare to territorial and/or riparian conflicts as well. At the heart of questions over conflict is simply this: Why do we value what we value?

In the short term, Dr. Nyman plans to finish her book manuscript and start working on her next project. She is also in the process of planning several grant applications, including one to research international maritime conflict in East Asia.