HIST 4916B: Topics in Public History – “Canadian War Art”
Winter 2024 – January to April

Instructor: Sarafina Pagnotta

Introduction: In this course students will learn about the origins of Canada’s national war art collection (the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art), and how the majority of the artworks came to be housed in Ottawa. The pieces are now shared between the Art & Memorials Collection at the Canadian War Museum, the National Gallery of Canada and Library and Archives Canada.

Students will learn about how the war art collection began, with the establishment of the Canadian War Memorials Fund by Lord Beaverbrook in 1916, and the subsequent war art schemes that have been run in Canada, up to the present iteration – with the Canadian Forces Artists Program. They will also learn about the museum, gallery and archival best practices that have evolved over the last century to accommodate and exhibit war art collections.

The course is designed to familiarize students both with examples of war artworks and other visual materials that appear in the national war art collection and the roles of the public historians (whether they describe themselves as such or not) who work with them. They will learn about those who have maintained, researched and exhibited the collections since their inception just over a century ago.

Importantly, students will learn how this monumental collection of Canadian war art contributed (and continues to contribute) to such themes as: Canadian nation building of the twentieth century through the lenses of nationalism, intersectional study including gender, class and race, art historical discussions of high vs. low art, Canadian art canon building more broadly, memory and commemoration studies, modernism(s) and modernity, to name a few.

Students will also have the opportunity to hone and apply their knowledge of public history best practices and methods through site visits to the Canadian War Museum and the National Gallery of Canada to explore the archives and art collections in-person, as well as learning from knowledgeable experts who work with these collections on a daily basis through guest lectures and workshops.

Class Format: The seminar will meet once per week in a three-hour block. We will spend time discussing weekly readings and engaging in practical activities related to the course.

Aims and Goals: My aim in teaching this course is to introduce students to the extensive Canadian war art collection that has often been overlooked when discussing the history of Canada’s involvement in the World Wars and in conflicts since 1945. This collection offers a stunning case study of public history/historians operating in Canada before the ‘official’ professionalization of the profession in the latter half of the twentieth century. Students will learn how to apply their historical analysis skills to the ‘reading’ of visual and material culture ‘documents’ as primary sources for public history.

Assessment: TBD

Text: All course materials will be provided on Brightspace or through ARES – where to find reading materials will be detailed in the course syllabus.

Questions? Please email me at sarafinapagnotta@cmail.carleton.ca

*This course could be cross-listed with Art History and/or ICSLAC if desired.