PhD Oral Exam - Caroline Beaudoin, Art History
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
Focusing on the Eastern Townships area of Quebec, this dissertation attends to the complex values that can be assigned to landscape as visual representation, and to landscape as place. The case-studies, beginning at the turn of the 20th century, consider landscape in relation to a broad network of social relations and cultural meanings. Section I of the thesis starts by examining paintings and illustrations of loggers by F.S. Coburn as a way to address the logging industry in the Eastern Townships, and to consider the presence or absence of labour in landscape representation. Section II concentrates on early 20th-century postcards of towns, sites of leisure and asbestos mines in the region. I approach these postcards as modern material agents that articulate the everydayness of landscape and place through their imagery, as well as through their usage. Section III comes up to the present day through a discussion of an eco-park in Magog that negotiates the tension between ecological activism and eco-tourism, as the Eastern Townships struggles to achieve a post-industrial identity.
Organized into three chronological and overlapping sections that span 115 years of one region's history, the thesis develops an approach to landscape that is both art-historical and interdisciplinary. This study builds on recent scholarship within Canadian art history that challenges the association of landscape art with a myth about the country’s uninhabited wilderness; the region's landscapes studied here are inhabited, and imbued with rural, industrial and bilingual histories. The visual culture methodology deployed here means that canonical modes of artistic landscape representations are addressed relative to landscape images circulating on postcards, newspaper and book illustrations, documentary photographs, a labour recruitment booklet and an ecopark's website for example.
The theoretical and scholarly foundation of this thesis has been constructed by drawing on discussions of landscape by art historians, but also by sociologists, geographers, anthropologists, and philosophers. It is this interdisciplinary breadth that allows landscapes to be regarded as sites of everyday human interactions, that inevitably intersect with collective, commercial and political motives, and with cultural ideals, interests, and values. The writings of Henri Lefebvre on the value of the everyday have been important for this thesis, as has his critique of capitalist practices of labour and leisure. Another key author is Félix Guattari who was also highly critical of capitalism, while turning his attention to the state of the world's post-industrial ecology. Likewise, this thesis calls attention to the role of capitalist initiatives in the production of everyday landscapes. This analysis of diverse landscape images is meant to shed light on the Eastern Townships' complex identity as it transitions from a former industrial modern era to its current post-industrial phase. This thesis asks what the term landscape has come to imply measured against social tensions relating to class differences, or economic and environmental imperatives, and how its range of meanings can encompass territory, property, picture, place, and environment.