HIST 5709W: Photography and Public History
Winter 2024

Instructor: Professor James Opp

Scope & Objectives: This course explores the social history of photography/photographic practices, with an emphasis on the photograph as a material object that is circulated, is printed, is exhibited, is digitized, and archived. Both individually and as part of larger collections, photographs pose methodological and theorical issues that complicate our understanding of evidence, representation, and memory.

Through seminar discussions and assignments, we will contextualize the historical production of photographs while at the same time problematizing the position of those who use photographs for research, for exhibition, and for visualizing history. By exposing the power relations invested in photographic practices, we will critically assess how the archiving, collecting, publishing, and exhibiting of photographs have historically and continue to serve as contested sites.

This course does not aspire to offer a comprehensive survey of photographers, detail the technical history of cameras and film, or compare photographic styles as a function of art.  Rather, through selective themes and case examples, we will trace the power of photographic representations, consider their materiality, and reconsider how scholars employ, utilize, and come to terms with photographs and photographic practice.

Class Format & Readings: This is an in-person, student-led seminar in a three-hour block. Some weeks may be set aside for field trip or archive work, depending upon availability and access. Graduate-level participation and engagement with the course material will be expected. No textbook for this class is required; readings will be made available.

Assignments: Normally, students are expected to produce an independent research project using photographs, and we will hold an in-class end-of-year mini conference to present and celebrate our findings. There is a possibility that a larger group project might be undertaken, depending upon on-going negotiations with an external partner institution. Other assignments may be required, and will be outlined when the course syllabus is finalized.

Who can register? If you are a Carleton History graduate student, or a Public History MA student, welcome!  If you are a Carleton graduate student from another department, you are also welcome – it is very common for students in Art History, Canadian Studies, Journalism, and other programs to take this course. However, you will need to email the instructor first to receive permission to register. Please make sure that your home department will allow this course to count towards your degree.

Who do I contact?  Please email james.opp@carleton.ca  (see also jamesopp.com for more information about me)