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Faculty Image Thomas Sullivan



I was a practicing civil/structural engineer, when I began pursuing my academic career in geography at the University of Montana in the early 1990s. Completing my Master's degree in Geography, with an emphasis on Cartography, I became interested in Irish ethnicity and travelled to Ireland conducting interviews with those in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking regions) in the west of Ireland. Returning home, I began organizing Irish language workshops throughout the State of Montana, eventaully creating the Montana Gaelic Cultural Society, and founding the Montana Irish Festival (An Ri Ra)  in 1998.

In 2004, I began my doctoral work in social and cultural geography at Louisiana State University, focusing on Irish-American ethnicity and place attachment. My work, which is ongoing, focuses on the construction of identity and place through the lens of performance theory. Much of this work combines both qualitative and quantitative methods--through literature, archives, interviews, participant observation, and social surveys--in an attempt to answer "why" North American ethnics, most whom are far-removed both generationally and geographically from their perceived homelands, continue to make these powerful links.

My current research similarly uses elements of performance theory to better understand the construction of identity and people's connection to place. In four separate studies concerning aid workers in Haiti, transportation enginneers and sustainable design, Burning Man festival participants and their contribution to urban planning, and Irish language use in Donegal, Ireland, I continue to focus on the ways that people's performances contribute in developing the meaning of place.

Field Of Study:

Social and Cultural Geography, Performance Theory, Urban and Recreational Planning, Sustainable Transportation Systems.


I am a triathlete, bicyclist, and runner. I was the triathlon coach for the University of Montana Triathlon team when we won the National Championship in Reno, NV in the spring of 2006. I continue to compete in marathons, Ironman triathlon competitions, long-distance bike touring, and mountain bike and cyclocross racing.


Ph.D., Geography, Louisiana State University 2010
Dissertation: "Designing Irishness: Ethnicity, Belonging, and Imagined Connection to Place through Language"

M.A., Geography, The University of Montana 1995
Thesis: "Developing Contents for a Special Topic (Irish History) Regional Atlas"

B.S., Civil Engineering, Montana State University 1987

Teaching Experience:

University of Montana

GPHY 111/112N - Introduction to Physical Geography & Geography Lab
GPHY 121S - Introduction to Human Geography
GPHY 141S - Geography of World Regions
GPHY 333 - Cultural Ecology
GPHY 381/382 Principles of Digital Cartography & Digital Cartography Lab
GPHY 385 - Field Techniques in Geography
GPHY 432 - The Human Role in Environmental Change
GPHY 433 - Cultural Geography
GPHY 435 - Enivronmental Hazards and Planning
GPHY 465 - Planning Principles and Processes
GPHY 504 - Introduction to Geographical Research
GPHY 505 - Research Design
GPHY 520 - Seminar in Geographical Thought
GPHY 550 - Seminar in Geography: Space and Place

Louisiana State University

GEOG 1001 - Human Geography: Europe and the Americas


Association of American Geographers
American Sociological Association
American Anthropological Association
Montana Gaelic Cultural Society

Specialized Skills:

Social and Cultural Geography, Performance Theory, Urban and Recreational Planning, Sustainable Transportation Systems.

Professional Experience:

I was the founder, CEO and owner of Eclipse Engineering, Inc., a structural engineering firm located in Missoula, Montana, until I decided to return to shool in 2004 at Louisiana State University, where I earned my doctoral degree in Geography. I also worked for a number of engineering firms involved in the design of residential developments, water structures, bridges, and buildings with projects located throughout the United States. My experience led more recently to work in Haiti, where in the spring of 2010, I assessed building structures following the earthquake there in January.

My enginnering experience, and construction background, has led to my emphais in planning and design. I have more recently built residential homes that incorporate sustainable building practices (geothermal heat pump system, SIP panels, and drip systems) and Smart Growth processes (traffic calming and infill). We are also a "carfree" household, and my interest in bicycle/pedestrian issues has resulted in my appointment to the Bicycle Pedestrian Adviory Board for the City of Missoula.

I am also the founder and past president of the Montana Gaelic Cultural Society, where I was involved with bringing the Irish langauge to Montana through a number of courses offered through the Continuing Education department at the University of Montana, as well as organizing multiple events--language immersion weekends--throughout the State of Montana. I founded and directed the An Ri Ra--Montana Irish Festival--that began in 1998 in Missoula and has subsequently moved to Butte, Montana and which is held each August.

International Experience:

Tom carried out field studies on identity in Ireland and helped as an engineer in Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake.

Languages Known:

  • French - elementary proficiency
  • Gaelic - elementary proficiency