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LibrlSt 721: Special Topics in Liberal Studies
Jasmine Alinder, Assistant Professor of History / 414.229.3675

Lens on the Local: Photography and Neighborhood History

Since its invention in 1839, photography has served as one of the most widely used tools for documenting the world. But how reliable and useful are photographs as sources for understanding the past? What can photographs tell us about the people represented? This course will treat photographs as historical documents that, like any other historical text, demand careful reading, contextualization, and interpretation. The course will begin with a brief history of photography and continue with a discussion of photographic signification. We will then apply the theoretical and methodological tools developed in the first weeks of class to examine a collection of photographs located in Milwaukee's Walnut Way neighborhood. This collection consists of hundreds of images of local residents who cashed checks at Galst's Food Market between the late 1960s and early 1980s. We will use these photographs as entry points into a wide range of issues that students will generate based on their own interests. Topics may include the ethics of representation; the local history of a neighborhood; or de-industrialization in Milwaukee. Students will produce a project or research paper based on this local archive. Other requirements include participation in class, and two oral presentations.

Preliminary Reading List:

  • Graham Clarke, "What is a Photograph?" The Photograph (Oxford University Press, 1997), 11-25.
  • Roland Barthes, "The Photographic Message" and "The Rhetoric of Images," Image, Music, Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 15-51.
  • Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Art in Theory 1900-1990, eds. Harrison and Wood (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 512-520.
  • Marita Sturken, "Camera Images and National Meanings," Tangled Memories (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 19-43.
  • Lucy Lippard, "Doubletake," in The Photography Reader, 343-352.
  • Anne Maxwell, "Introduction" and "A Lens on the Other," Colonial Photography and Exhibitions (London: Leicester University Press, 1999), 1-14, 38-72.
  • Cathine Lutz and Jane Collins, "The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes," in The Photography Reader, 354-374.
  • Abigail Solomon-Godeau, "Who is Speaking Thus: Some Questions about Documentary Photography," Photography at the Dock (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 169-183.
  • Martha Rosler, "In around and Afterthoughts on Documentary Photography," The Contest of Meaning, ed. Bolton, 303-342.

Thursday, 6:00-8:40pm
Curtin Hall 939