November 4th – Professor Charmaine Nelson

Please join the History of Art & Architecture as we welcome Dr. Charmaine Nelson, Professor of Art History, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University (Montreal, CANADA) to the 2020/2021 Speaker Series.


Wednesday, November 4, 2020, 6:00PM – Via Zoom
Title: “ ‘He…has the ends of both his great toes frozen off’: Enslaved and Free Black Presence, Experience, and Representation in the Quebec Winter.


Dr Charmaine Nelson
Dr. Charmaine Nelson

Charmaine A. Nelson is a Professor of Art History at McGill University where she was hired in 2003. She has made ground-breaking contributions to the fields of the Visual Culture of Slavery, Race and Representation, and Black Canadian Studies. Nelson has published seven books including The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (2007), Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (2016), and Towards an African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance (2018).

She is actively engaged with lay audiences through her media work including ABC, CBC, CTV, and City TV News, The Boston Globe, BBC One’s “Fake or Fortune,” and PBS’ “Finding your Roots”. She blogs for the Huffington Post Canada and writes for The Walrus. Most recently, she was the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University (2017-2018). Nelson will soon be leaving McGill to join the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has been appointed a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement and will build the first-ever institute focused on the study of Canadian Slavery.


Lecture Abstract:

When in 1688, King Louis XIV of France was petitioned to allow the importation of enslaved people from the French Caribbean into New France, he expressed concern for the ability of Africans to adapt to Canadian winters. With the “success” of New England Slavery upheld as evidence of African acclimatization in the region, royal assent was given in 1689. Although present in the region from at least the early seventeenth century, both free and enslaved blacks, regardless of ancestry, have been continuously unhomed in Canada. The erasure of an historical black Canadian presence has in part been facilitated by historical pseudo-scientific ideas of African unsuitability to Canada’s cold climate. This lecture develops two Quebec case studies of the representation of black people in the Canadian winter, the first a set of eighteenth-century fugitive slave advertisements (which will be analyzed as visual culture), and the second, a photographic studio portrait of African-Canadian sitters by the prominent nineteenth-century photography studio William Notman and Son. The first case study explores a set of five fugitive slave advertisements for winter escapes to expose what they reveal about the nature of slave experience and resistance Canada. The second case study argues that the choice of a winter backdrop for a Montreal studio portrait in 1901, was a bold counter-hegemonic assertion of African-Canadian belonging at a moment of wide-spread anti-black immigration sentiment.


This virtual series is free and open to the public with online registration. Register here!

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