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ARTH 627 Feminism, Art, Art History: Oral History, Art History, and Feminist Futures

  • Tuesdays, 11:30-14:30
  • LB1019
  • Instructor: Dr. Cynthia Hammond

Oral history is a research method that emerged as part of radical social movements in the 1960s and 70s that sought to give voice to those who had previously been under-represented in academic scholarship, specifically working-class people, women, members of the gay community, and people of colour. The method has since expanded into a robust, cross-disciplinary field of practice, but the central aim of oral history continues: to broaden the historical record with the express goal of seeking a more just and inclusive future.

This legacy has influenced the content and approach of ARTH 627/2 Oral History, Art History, and the Feminist Future, which will be linked to the fall programming of Concordia’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS). Under the direction of Dr Cynthia Hammond, COHDS will be hosting a year of events under the rubric of “Listening for the Feminist Future: Stories, Visions, Actions.” Some of our classes will overlap with this programming during the fall term, and our final class will be an opportunity to share students’ work with members of the COHDS community, as well as with one another.

ARTH 627/2 will introduce students to the methods of oral history, with a special focus on the application of oral history in the arts (ie. how art historians, curators, artists, and architectural historians use it). Much of our theoretical reading will come from feminist oral history, as it is this terrain that has produced some of the most exciting research about the ethics of listening, the necessity and challenges of co-creation, and the possibility of sharing authority (all fundamental principles guiding oral history today).

This will be a hands-on course in that one of the learning goals is to complete the research ethics process, which is a formal process mandated by Canada’s three major funding agencies. The purpose of undertaking a research ethics application within the course is to gain first-hand experience of both ethics protocols, and interviewing itself (which is technically not permitted until ethics permission has been granted by our institution). Once they have ethics approval, students will undertake three interviews, and will write a final paper, or propose a curatorial or research-creation project based on these interviews.

Depending on the student’s interests, they might consider interviewing artists, art historians, and curators. If they are interested in the built environment perhaps they could interview, architects, urban planners, or heritage workers. But the course will also encourage students to consider other kinds of voices that might need to be foregrounded in the study of art and architecture. Rarely do art historical essays consider the perspective or museum guards or maintenance workers. Rarely does architectural history consider the experiences of occupants and/or residents. Part of the goal of the course, then, is to work collectively to enlarge our shared sense of what is a “cultural worker”. Whose stories can help us to think in a robustly inclusive way about a more egalitarian future, in the arts and beyond?

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