Project Showcase (VISA 2P90: 19th Century Visual Culture, Autumn 2021)

During the Autumn of 2021, my VISA 2P90 students built digital exhibitions focusing on the visual culture of the Niagara region in the 19th century. We worked collaboratively with Brock’s Archives & Special Collections, particularly with David Sharron, the Head of Archives & Special Collections. As this was an online course, we focused on the digital collections but students were welcome to go into the archives in person if they wanted to. We worked with a tool called Collection Builder which is supported by the Digital Scholarship Lab at Brock University. I hired a former student, Ian Ball, as the front-line technical support wizard (this is his official job title!). Ian’s help was instrumental to the success of this project. Below is a list of the projects the students created this term.

Modernizing the Landscape: Industrialization at Niagara Falls by Madeline Collins

Exploring the Influence of Wine in 19th Century Niagara by Sarah Puckett

Hydroelectric Power at Niagara Falls by Ella Sexton

The Honeymoon Capital by Marley McLean

Don’t Slip and Niagara Fall! by Riley Cuddy-Colbon

A Fond Sigh of Friendship: A Moment of the Past Brought Forward by Abigail Leeder

The Tipped Inkwell by Rachel Stangl

Niagara in the 19th Century as Seen by George E. Curtis by Leyao Chen, Ke Shi,  Yufei Wang, and Jingyue Zhang

Souvenir Art in Niagara Falls by Nikki Singh, Sara Fellman, and piper valdock

Niagara in the 19th Century by Xiaobin Liu

Letters to St Catharines by Jessie Richard

Upper Steel Arch Bridge in Cyanotype by Christy Mitchell

The Terrapin Tower in 19th Century Niagara by Naomi Egbunike

Niagara As Told Through Its Advertisements by Connor Old

A Look at Healthcare in the Niagara Region in the Long 19th Century by Ella Bos and Morgan Sarah Jane Branton

The Great Niagara Falls by John Dolighan

The Boldest 19th Century Daredevils by Luana Amatuzio

Humans and Natural Forces in the 19th Century by Mavis Li

Niagara Falls: A Disappointing Jewel by Vanipha Vongvilay

Courses I Teach

Introduction to Visual Culture (VISA 1Q98)

Through a combination of lectures, films, readings, and discussions this course introduces students to some of the key concepts relating to the study of visual culture. We will draw upon examples from the realms of art production, advertising, cinema, graphic traditions, and scientific images in order to study how visual culture interacts with and informs social, cultural, political, and economic aspects of human society. Through the various course components we will consider such questions as: What is visual culture? How does the context in which an image is viewed shape the way it is interpreted by a viewer? Why are certain types of images privileged over others? What types of theories exist to explain how audiences interpret and understand visual culture? In what ways can images reinforce or challenge dominant ideologies in society?

19th Century Visual Culture (VISA 2P90)

This course focuses on the relationship between visual culture and modernity in the “long nineteenth century” (from the late-18th century to the early years of the 20th century), a historical period marked by widespread political, social, economic, and cultural change. Through a series of thematic explorations we will be looking at some of the ways in which art and visual culture produced during time period responded to ever-changing conditions of “modern life,” and how the production and consumption of imagery during this time period relates to broader socio-political contexts.

Canadian Art History (VISA 2P50)

This course focuses on cultural production in Canada from early First Nations art practices until the middle of the twentieth century. Through thematic explorations we will consider some of the histories of Canadian art during this time period. This course is intended to give students a foundation in applying social and contextual analysis to the study of early Canadian Art.

Contemporary Issues in Canadian Visual Culture (VISA 2P51)

This course focuses on art, visual culture, cultural production, and museums/exhibitions in Canada from the mid-20th century through to the present day. Through thematic explorations we will consider some of the issues and cultural histories influencing the production and exhibition of art and visual culture in Canada during this time period.

Visual Culture & The Human Body (VISA 3P52)

This is a special topics course that explores the depiction and representation of the human body. During the semester we will focus on a wide range of case studies and visual material in order to critically examine how and why the human body has been such a significant subject in the history of visual culture. Thematic explorations include medical imagery, censorship, portraiture, advertising, and performance art. Students in this course will pursue their individual interests in course themes through the completion of a semester-long research and creative project.

Picturing Animals (VISA 3P98)

In 1980 John Berger famously asked, “Why Look at Animals?” Berger’s question serves as a launching point for this special studies seminar. In this course we will consider representations of animals in various forms of visual culture. From Albrecht Dürer’s The Rhinoceros (1515) to Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1992), nonhuman species have been a consistent component of Western art. Further, the animal body has been at the forefront of many technical innovations in visual culture. For example, Edweard Muybridge’s photographs for his 1887 publication Animal Locomotion have been celebrated as both expanding the boundaries of photography and an important foundation for cinematography. Likewise, Eduardo Kac’s creation of Alba the “GFP bunny” in 2000 raised numerous questions about the practice, ethics and materiality of making art. As this example demonstrates, the relationship between animals and visual culture goes beyond that of simple representation and has important implications for inter-species relationships.  For instance, in recent years artists like Olly and Suzi have begun to “collaborate” with nonhuman animals in their art-making endeavours and organizations like the “Elephant Art Gallery” showcase works purportedly created by pachyderm painters.

Through directed readings, research assignments and seminar-style discussions, this course will engage with such questions as: Why do animals figure so prominently in the history of art? What are the ethical implications of picturing animals? What does it mean when artists collaborate with animals? Are animal images art or science? What can we learn from images of animals and what can these representations tell us about ourselves?

Social Justice & The Arts (SJES 5P70)

This course is a special topics study focusing on relationships between “the arts” and issues of Social Justice. We will consider many different forms of creative and cultural expression in this course, including visual arts, film, literature, theatre and music. Our investigation of the relationships that exist (and have historically existed) between Social Justice and the arts will be explored through both theoretical considerations and detailed analysis of select case studies.

This course is divided into three sections. In the first section we will consider how activist and social justice movements have utilized the arts. In this section we will spend some time considering how to critically analyze paintings, poems, photographs, songs performances, and other forms of cultural expression. These ideas will be further explored through close readings of select case studies. For example, how was music used in the American Civil Rights movement, and why was it so significant in this context? In the second section of the course we will consider how the arts have represented activism and issues of social justice. The third section of the course will focus on student research (through presentations and workshops) as well as our class’s contribution to the Niagara Social Justice Forum.