Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive Exam Reading List

This is a reading list compiled for the comprehensive exam in the Art History and Visual Culture PhD program at York University. The exams and questions are self-defined, which means each student puts together their own reading lists and develops the questions they will try to answer through their reading, with a tremendous amount of help and input from committee members and other students. Since this process is already a collaborative one, I’m hoping that making my lists available might help other students when it comes to the somewhat daunting task of compiling their own reading lists.

A quick note: in my program, the comps are meant to help prepare students to write their dissertation. In this case, that means my lists are very much focused on colonial-era photography, pedagogy and visual culture. Other students’ lists vary widely according to their own research interests and objects of study.

I have also organized my reading list into two areas: depth, which focuses on readings specific to my dissertation topic; and breadth, which tries to establish the current discourse around instrumental photography projects across the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Finally, though my exam took place in 2010, I’ve added a few publications that I have encountered since then that have been helpful to my research and that I wish I’d read for the comps.


In preparation for my comprehensive exams, I hope to establish the current discourse around photography’s role as a pedagogical and ideological tool in the colonial and postcolonial context. While several art historians and photo theorists have considered the use of colonial and modernist photographs as propaganda, advertisements, anthropological records and museum artifacts, the role of photography as a learning and teaching tool, both in formal settings for children (such as schools) and in informal venues for adults (such as public travel lectures or published travelogues), still needs to be addressed.

By drawing links between the existing literature on colonial and modernist photography, imagined communities and pedagogy from a diverse set of fields, my comprehensive exam will outline how my dissertation project contributes to the current field of scholarship on colonial photography and identify key areas for future research.

Key questions:

1) The representation of imagined communities and photography’s role in this representation

How are imagined communities constituted and contested through visual representations?

How does photography’s history as a widely instrumentalized medium influence its adoption as a mode of representation for imagined communities?

2) Photography as a powerful ideological or colonial tool

What is it about photography that makes it ideally suited as a pedagogical tool for imperialism and colonialism?

Why, in the late-19th and early-20th century, is photography taken up as the dominant mode of visually representing imperial and colonial relations? Is it instrumentalized to serve as a marker of modernity, aligning the modern colonial project with technological and scientific advancements? Or is there something unique about the kind of visual and ideological “work” that photographic images do that is different from the “work” done by engravings and maps?

3) Colonial photography and photographic meaning within other modes of photographic representation in the colonial era

What is the relationship between colonial photography projects from the late-19th and early-20th and concurrent developments in fine art and social documentary photography programs in England and North America?

What is photography’s relationship to performativity? Do photographic images, like discourse and subjectivity, require constant reiteration and repetition in order to maintain their ideological significance?


Reading List: Depth

Colonial photography and museums / Colonial photography as a tool of geography and anthropology

Coombes, Annie E. Reinventing Africa: museums, material culture, and popular imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).

Edwards, Elizabeth. “Photographic ‘types’: the pursuit of method,” Visual Anthropology 3 (1990), p. 235-58.

–––, –––. Raw histories: photographs, anthropology and museums (New York: Berg, 2001).

Mackenzie, John M. Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880-1960 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984).

Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination, Joan M. Schwartz and James R. Ryan, eds. (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003).

Indigenous communities and colonial photography

Partial Recall, Lucy Lippard, ed. (New York: The New Press, 1992).

Pinney, Christopher. The Coming of Photography in India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

Stoler, Ann Laura. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

Thompson, Krista. An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque. (Duke University Press, 2006)

Williams, Carol. Framing the West: Race, Gender and the Photographic Frontier in the Pacific Northwest (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee (COVIC)

Ryan, James R. “Visualizing Imperial Geography: Halford Mackinder and the Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee, 1902-11.” Ecumene, vol. 1, issue 2, 1994, 157-176.

–––, –––. Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

Psychoanalytic perspectives on colonial photography

Columpar, Corinn. “The Gaze as Theoretical Touchstone: The Intersection of Film Studies, Feminist Theory, and Postcolonial Theory,” Women’s Studies Quarterly, 30, 1/2, Spring 2002, 25-44.

DeRoo, Rebecca. “Colonial collecting: French women and Algerian cartes postales” in Colonialist Photography: Imag(in)ing Race and Place, Eleanor M. Hight and Gary D. Sampson, eds. (New York: Routledge, 2002).

Fuss, Diana. “Interior Colonies: Franz Fanon and the Politics of Identification,” Identification Papers: Readings on Psychoanalysis, Sexuality and Culture (New York: Routledge, 1995).

Mills, Sara. Gender and Colonial Space (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005).

Theoretical sources on colonial visual culture

Beyond aesthetics: art and the technologies of enchantment, Pinney, Christopher and Nicholas Thomas, eds. (Oxford: Berg, 2001).

Haunted by Empire: Geographies of the Intimate in North American History, Ann Laura Stoler, ed. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).

McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York: Routledge, 1995).

Pinney, Christopher. Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

Theoretical sources on archival research

Derrida, Jacques. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

Stanworth, Karen. “In/sight of visual culture,” Symploke, vol. 10, no. 1-2 (2002), 106-118.

Stoler, Ann Laura. Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).


Reading List: Breadth

Instrumental and social documentary photography

Rosler, Martha. “In, around, and afterthoughts (on documentary photography)” in The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography, Richard Bolton, ed. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1993 (fourth printing)) 303-341.

Smith, Shawn Michelle. Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2004).

Tagg, John. “The Currency of the Photograph” in Thinking Photography, Victor Burgin, ed. (London: The MacMillan Press, 1982) 110-141.

Photography and the state

Azoulay, Ariella. The Civil Contract of Photography (New York: Zone Books, 2008).

Burgin, Victor. “Looking at Photographs” in Thinking Photography, Victor Burgin, ed. (London: The MacMillan Press, 1982).

Sekula, Allan. “The Body and the Archive,” October, Vol. 39, (Winter, 1986) 3-64.

Ethical issues in photography theory

Sliwinski, Sharon. Human Rights in Camera  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002).

Sontag, Susan. “Regarding the Torture of Others,” The New York Times, May 23, 2004.

Zemel, Carol. “Emblems of Atrocity: Holocaust Liberation Photographs,” Image and Remembrance: Representation and the Holocaust, Shelley Hornstein, Florence Jacobowitz, eds. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press) 2003.

Theoretical sources on seeing, visuality and phenomenology of perception

Berger, John. About Looking (New York: Vintage, 1992).

Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990).

Silverman, Kaja. The Threshold Of The Visible World (New York: Routledge, 1996).

Harvey, David. “The Social Construction of Space and Time” in Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference (London: Blackwell, 1996) 210-247.

Landscape and Power, W.J.T. Mitchell, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

McNaughten, Phil and John Urry. Contested Natures (London: Sage, 1998).

Merleu-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception (New York: Routledge, 1945/1995).

Tilley, Christopher. A Phenomenology of Landscape: Places, Paths and Monuments (Oxford: Berg, 1997).

Public pedagogy / Visual representations as pedagogical tools

Britzman, Deborah P. Lost Subjects, Contested Objects: Toward a Psychoanalytic Inquiry of Learning (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998).

Cartwright, Lisa. Moral Spectatorship: Technologies of Voice and Affect in Postwar Representations of the Child (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).

Donald, James. Sentimental Education: Schooling, Popular Culture and the Regulation of Liberty (London: Verso, 1992).

Giroux, Henry A. “Public Pedagogy as Cultural Politics: Stuart Hall and the Crisis of Culture,” in Without Guarantees: In Honor of Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Grossberg, and Angela McRobbie, eds. (London: Verso, 2000) 134-147.

Wang, Caroline and Mary Burris. “Photovoice: Concept, Methodology, and Use for Participatory Needs Assessment” Health Education and Behavior. 2(24): 1997.

Imagined communities

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (London: Verso, 1991).

Kaplan, Louis. American Exposures: photography and community in the twentieth century (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).

Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991).

Rancière, Jacques. The Emancipated Spectator, Gregory Elliott, trans. (New York: Verso, 2009).

Stoler, Ann Laura. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).


Ahmed, Sara. “Ethical encounters: the other, others and strangers” in Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality (New York: Routledge, 2000).

Bhabha, Homi K. “The Other Question: Stereotype, Discrimination, and the Discourse of Colonialism,” The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994).

Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism (New York: Routledge, 2005).

Minh-ha, Trinh T. Woman, native, other: writing postcoloniality and feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).

Said, Edward. Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1994).

Young, Robert C. Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001).

Childhood and representations of space

Davin, Anna. Growing Up Poor: Home, School and Street in London 1870-1914 (London: Rivers Oram Press, 1996).

Giddens, Anthony. The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 1990).

Grosz, Elizabeth. Space, Time and Perversion (New York: Routledge, 1995).

Higonnet, Anne. Pictures of Innocence: The History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1998).

Massey, Doreen. Space, Place and Gender (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994).