Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Research fellowships, a new book, and journal articles mark busy sabbatical for Women's and Gender Studies professor

September 23rd, 2016
Dr. Rachel Hurst

Already, it’s been a busy and successful sabbatical year for StFX women’s and gender studies professor Dr. Rachel Hurst, who is at work on a new book, has had several articles published from her research, and has secured two visiting research fellowships.

Dr. Hurst’s main project this year is writing a new book manuscript, extending from her interests in embodiment and photography that she has explored in two previous books. Since 2010, she has been conducting research in Canadian and American archives for a book project tentatively titled Settler Fantasies and Colonial ‘Before and After’ Photography
Focusing on how colonial violence was legitimized as a part of nation-formation and the construction of citizenship in Canada from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, this research looks at parallel processes within visual culture that uphold the legality of settler violence in order to ‘unsettle’ settler lawfulness, she says.  

“This research contributes to the much larger intellectual and political projects of understanding of post-colonialism and settler societies, particularly those that query the psychical dimensions of nationalism and colonialism, through an analysis of settler photography that documents Indigenous peoples through the lens of a fantasized ‘before’ and ‘after’ colonial contact,” she says.   

Dr. Hurst focuses on four sites where photography was used to document transformations of Indigenous bodies from 1850-1950: residential school photography (Shubenacadie Residential School); business photography (Hudson’s Bay Company and The Beaver magazine); commercial photography (Hannah and Richard Maynard, Frederick Dally, and Benjamin Leeson); and scientific and geographic exploration photography (First International Polar Year in 1882-1883).  


The first article she published in this newer area of research, “Colonial Encounters at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: ‘Unsettling’ the Personal Photograph Albums of Andrew Onderdonk and Benjamin Leeson” was recognized by Dr. Andrea Eidinger’s Unwritten Histories blog as a one of the “Best New Articles” for May 2016. 

As part of this project, she submitted a paper about photographer Lorene Squire’s photographs of Indigenous women in the Canadian North and her 1938 self-portraits when on commission for the Hudson Bay Company’s magazine The Beaver and Canadian Airways, titled “Lorene Squire’s 1938 Psychical Landscapes of Colonial/Modern Gender in the Canadian North.”  

“This paper is a significant contribution to Canadian photographic history and theory, because it offers biographical and historical information about Squire, a popular American wildlife photographer,” she says. “It contributes to historical and theoretical scholarship on the meaning of photographs of Indigenous people in Canada for projects of nation-building and northern economic development, as well as how the North functions as a reference point for Canadian identity; and finally, it adds to scholarship on understanding gender as a colonial concept through the concrete example of Squire’s photographs.” 

The first article of her sabbatical has already been accepted by the international journal History of Photography, and is scheduled to be published in November 2016. 
As well as these activities, Dr. Hurst travelled to New York City in August to work in the Barnard College Archives and Zine Library at Columbia University, thanks to a UCR grant, where she studied two sets of documents, one related to the formation of the Barnard Women’s Center in 1971, which resulted in the founding of the Women’s Studies Department in 1978, and the second, zines produced as assignments in women’s studies classes, or in response to women’s studies, in the late 1990s and beyond. 

This research is for an article in which she will write imagined dialogues between feminists who founded women’s studies as an academic field and students of women’s studies writing 20-30 years later. Dr. Hurst says her article foregrounds the contested nature of the field from its beginnings, and theorizes that the existence of these debates is a strength, emanating from the intellectual rigour and political commitments of the field.  

In addition to writing this article, the research will also inform the design of a new course about how feminists have created new cultures, and intervened in existing cultural production. 

While away from the classroom on sabbatical, she is still finishing up supervising a directed reading course “WMGS 394: Leadership Through an Intersectional Framework,” with student Rebecca Mesay. Ms. Mesay will present her research to the Hive for Feminist Research this year, the first time a student has presented to this group.

Currently, Dr. Hurst is the Muriel Gold Visiting Professor at McGill’s Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, the top visiting professor award they give each year. This fall, she will participate in a symposium on decolonizing knowledge, and will present research related to her book manuscript during the Institute’s annual “Esquisses” series, and at the National Women’s Studies Association annual conference in Montréal.  

The fall will also be busy with archives trips, as the visiting professorship comes with a research budget. She will travel to both the Alaska & Polar Regions Collections at the Rasmuson Library in Fairbanks, Alaska to consult materials related to the First International Polar Year; and will work in the Royal BC Archives in Victoria, researching British Columbia commercial photographers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 
From February to May, Dr. Hurst will be in Canberra, Australia, as she was awarded a competitive research fellowship at the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University.  

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