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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - John Toohey, Art History

Fred judge and the myths of the British landscape

Thursday, November 30, 2023
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Dolly Grewal



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.


The eight thousand plus photographs of the British landscape that Fred Judge took between 1903 and 1924 present an opportunity to consider how landscape was perceived in Britain one hundred years ago and how readings of its history then still resonate today.

Judge’s photography is a valuable resource, not only because he took so many photographs and because he travelled across Britain to get them, but because his chosen medium, the postcard, is an early example of photography as mass-media that would become dominant through the twentieth century.

Britain presents an effective model for understanding landscape history. One of the seminal texts, W. G. Hoskins’s The Making of the English Landscape (1954) began with analysis of prehistoric land use and moved though time to the (then) present, which was made easy because remnants of landscape usage from the prehistoric, the Roman and other histories survive, and because records in the form of texts and images are abundant.

If the physical evidence has been accounted for, perceptions of landscape history are vague and changeable. The research for this thesis began in 2015, when the Brexit referendum was still considered a formality for remaining in Europe. The result for the No vote in 2016 had one barely noticeable effect in that many of the myths and readings of landscape history considered a fait accompli in Judge’s era, gradually made irrelevant since, were revived with force. The image of the Britain that many No campaigners argued would be restored with independence from the E.U can be found in Judge’s images, from quiet, peaceful and evidently prosperous villages to the economic power that Britain possessed in the industrial era. The honesty or integrity of these perceptions matter, but not as critically as their re-emerging presence in debate.

The perception of landscape history remains relevant where much of Hoskins’s evidence has become out-dated.

Breaking the research into thematic components, history, art, heritage, nature, countryside, night, modernity and folklore allowed contemporary perceptions to be read against Judge’s work, but that necessarily involved attempts to understand how Judge read national identity into the landscape. In the conclusion, the physical changes that have taken place since Judge worked are considered. Those changes frequently expose the fallacies and myths behind the perception.

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