Welcome to Black Canadian Studies. My name is Charmaine Nelson and this website is both a resource for Black Canadian Studies and a space where I will share my past, present, and future research agendas and production. As the first (and currently the only) black professor within the discipline of Art History at a Canadian University, I bring a unique outlook to the study of art and visual culture. Identity is always a part of scholarship and my identity as a black woman in Canada has shaped the questions that I pose in the face of art objects.
Although all of my degrees are from the discipline of Art History, my research also engages with the fields of Black Diaspora Studies, Canadian Studies, Caribbean Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Trans Atlantic Slavery Studies, and Women's Studies. My research and teaching is at the forefront of the fields of Race and Representation and the Visual Culture of Slavery, especially as concerns the representation of black female subjects in western art (American, Canadian, European and the Caribbean).
BCS is also a way for me to share my passion for Black Canadian Studies. Although we know that people of African descent have been in Canada since at least 1605 when Mathieu da Costa arrived with the Portuguese, and although Trans Atlantic Slavery and triangular trade were practiced simultaneously by the French and the British in the territories now known as Canada, the histories of black Canadian presence have been overwhelmingly written out of Canadian histories, as well as histories of the Black Diaspora and Trans Atlantic Slavery. Equally problematic, the histories of slavery generally have been coded as “black” histories. For instance, when we go to libraries to conduct research on slavery in Canada, most of the scholarship has been published in books and other sources on Black Canadians. This is an ironic and disturbing development given that almost all of the merchants, slave owners, colonizers and colonial administrators who participated in and benefited from slavery were white. Indeed the retroactive “blackening” of slave histories and “whitening” of Canadian histories denies the central role of black (and Native) slave labour within the colonial visions of these two empires, as it simultaneously allows Europeans and Euro-Americans to imagine that slavery is not also their history.
These erasures have also resulted in the absence of a Black Canadian Studies infrastructure in Canadian universities and colleges. As such, it is extremely difficult (if not technically impossible) for students to attain degrees in African-Canadian or Black Canadian Studies and many exceptional scholars are labouring in obscurity and isolation across the country (or have opted to leave Canada altogether) with little institutional support, funding or recognition.
BCS is a hub through which I will communicate my ongoing and transforming research agenda, as well as cultural and social interests with the public. But it is also a forum where I will provide access to related events, conferences, activities, resources, networks, programs, funding, institutions and venues on Black Canada and inter-related fields and topics.
Besides overviews of my teaching and research interests, I have included links to my publications and glimpses of my academic activities. You will also find pages that highlight the hard work and accomplishments of my many exceptional graduate and undergraduate students. They are an impressive group of young scholars and cultural workers, as you will soon see for yourself.
As I always say to my students, the fields of Postcolonial Canadian Studies and Black Canadian Studies are wide open, especially as concerns the discipline of Art History, which seeks to examine art and visual culture. To this end, I am always interested in taking on new graduate students who are open to the challenges of these and related fields. There is no shortage of evidence of black Canadian presence in our archives, libraries and museums. There is however, a relative shortage of institutionalized academic commitment and support to provide the resources to tackle the extraordinary and enriching research.
It is my hope that BCS will be one platform in the ongoing quest towards the full recognition and inclusion of Black presence in the Canadian imaginary.
Dr. Charmaine Nelson
Professor of Art History
McGill University, Montreal, Canada