Richard Unger

Wall Associate




Department of History





Geographic Location

Richard Unger

Richard Unger specializes in medieval and early modern economic history, the history of medieval technology, maritime history, and environmental history. Within these various fields, he concentrates chiefly on north-western Europe, the Netherlands in particular, and has developed an unusually broad chronological range, covering both the medieval and early modern eras.

Dr. Unger completed his master’s degrees in History and Economics and a doctorate in History at Yale University in 1971. His many awards and distinctions since joining the UBC Department of History in 1969 include the Donnelley Family Fellowship, National Humanities Center; Visiting Fellow, University of Oxford; Fellow, Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study; Visiting Research Fellow, University of Cambridge; Visiting Fellow, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam; John Lyman Book Award of the North American Society of Oceanic History; UBC Killam Research Prize, and John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.

Primary Recipient Awards

Richard Unger – Distinguished Scholars in Residence – 2011
Dr. Unger's research agenda at the Institute involves two new and interrelated publication projects on historic energy systems: on energy sources used in Canada since 1800, and on energy carriers in early modern Europe (1500-1800), site of the world's first fossil-fuel energy revolution. These two projects begin to demonstrate how different energy sources, not just fossil fuels, have driven modern economic growth and how various energy sources (fossil, wind, water, biomass, etc.) have distinctive advantages and negative environmental impacts. In October, Dr. Unger headed a Peter Wall Institute Colloquium Abroad Continuity in Energy Regimes on the topic of energy sustainability in early modern Europe at one of our three partner institutes, the Technical University of Munich, Institute for Advanced Studies, co-hosted by the Deutsches Museum.  
Richard Unger – Wall Colloquia Abroad – 2011
Continuity in Energy Regimes: Failed Transitions and the Persistence of Sustainability Principal Investigator: Richard Unger, Professor Emeritus of History, 2011Wall Distinguished Scholar in Residence, UBC. This colloquium was co-organized and co-funded, with funds from the Wall Colloquia Abroad program, with our partner institute, the Technical University of Munich, Institute for Advanced Study (TUM-IAS) and was held at TUM-IAS, in Munich, Germany, on October 27-29, 2011. The goal of the conference was to examine why older, more traditional sources of energy survive and in some cases even revive and thrive despite the presence of newer and more ‘modern’ sources of power. Papers explored reasons for the survival of traditional energy sources and reasons for partial or slow transitions to more powerful or notionally more efficient providers. Discussion of ways of measuring transitions, and reasons for delays, both short and long term, in adopting new carriers were at the centre of the meeting. Economic reasons for retaining earlier practice often seem the obvious explanation for slow change but alternative or additional ways to account for apparent tardiness based in technology, psychology, social context and environmental considerations were addressed throughout the course of the meeting. The retention of earlier practices may but not necessarily improve sustainability, another issue discussed in the papers and in the closing round table.