Biography

Charmaine Nelson

Charmaine A. Nelson is a Provost Professor of Art History and the founding Director of the Slavery North Initiative which supports research and research creation on the study of Canadian Slavery and slavery in the American North. Prior this appointment in 2022, she was a Professor of Art History and a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement at NSCAD University in Halifax, Canada (2020-2022) where she founded the Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery, the first-ever research center focused on the overlooked 200-year history of Canadian participation in Transatlantic Slavery. As the director of the Institute, she did considerable public outreach in the form of lectures, media interviews, blogs, and podcasts. She also organized panels and oversaw the competition for the first cohort of seven institute fellows. Nelson worked at McGill University (Montreal, Quebec) for seventeen years (2003-2020) and at Western University (London, Ontario) for two (2001-2003), where she became the first black person appointed as a tenured or tenure-track professor of Art History in Canada. She received her PhD in Art History from the University of Manchester in 2001.

Her research and teaching interests include postcolonial and black feminist scholarship, Transatlantic Slavery Studies, and Black Diaspora Studies. Her scholarship examines Canadian, American, European, and Caribbean art and visual culture. Her research and teaching explores various types of "high" and "low" art and popular art forms including TV, film, photography, prints, sculpture, painting, and dress. She also works across various genres including portraiture, still-life, nudes, and landscape art. She has made ground-breaking contributions to the fields of the Visual Culture of Slavery, Race and Representation, Black Canadian Studies, and African Canadian Art History.

An incredibly active scholar, Nelson has given over 300 lectures, papers, and talks across Canada, and the USA, and in Mexico, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, the UK, Central America, and the Caribbean. Her university lectures include Harvard, Oxford, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and Yale. She is also actively engaged with lay audiences through her media work including ABC, Aljazeera, CBC, CTV, BBC One, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and PBS. She has blogged for the Huffington Post Canada and written for The Walrus. Nelson is a consultant and on-camera expert for Hungry Eyes Media’s BLK: An Origin Story (2022) and the CBC’s Black Life: A Canadian History (2023).

Nelson has published seven books. They include the co-edited volume Racism Eh?: A Critical Inter-Disciplinary Anthology of Race and Racism in Canada (Concord, Ontario: Captus Press, 2004), the edited volumes Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2010), and Legacies Denied: Unearthing the Visual Culture of Canadian Slavery (Montreal: Printed for author by McGill Copy Service, 2013) and Towards and African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance (Concord, Ontario: Captus Press, 2018), and three single-authored books including The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), Representing the Black Female Subject in Western Art (New York: Routledge, 2010), and Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica(London, UK: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2016).

Her latest single-authored book, Slavery, Geography and Empire... delivers one of the first Slavery Studies books to juxtapose temperate and tropical slavery and the first such comparative work in Art History. Exploring a vast range of primary sources including travel narratives, plantation ledgers, merchant cash books, and planters' journals, the book juxtaposes the British island settlements of Montreal and Jamaica to question how the representation of land became central to the possession of territory, the control of resources, and the othering of African and indigenous populations.

Her seventh book, Towards an African Canadian Art History... is the first to consolidate the field of African Canadian Art History. Including examinations of "high" and "low" art, as well as popular and material culture, cultural policy, and exhibition practices from 1786 until the present, it brings together chapters on black Canadian artists with others on the representation of black subjects in Canadian Art.

Nelson's current program of research, funded by a five-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant, stays with Canada and Jamaica to explore fugitive slave advertisement as visual culture that can disclose details about the process of creolization in temperate (slave minority) and tropical (slave majority) sites of empire.

Nelson has held several prestigious fellowships and appointments including a Caird Senior Research Fellowship, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK (2007), a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair, University of California - Santa Barbara (2010), and a Visiting Professorship in the Department of Africology at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (2011). She was also a Faculty Fellow at McGill's Institute for Public Life of the Arts and Ideas (2015-17) and is an Associate Member of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art (2015), Concordia University (Montreal), and a Member of the College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists, the Royal Society of Canada (2016-2023). She is the recipient of a Woman of Distinction Award from the Montreal's Women's YWCA in 2012 (Arts and Culture Category), a Teaching Award from The Arts Undergraduate Society of McGill University (2016), and McGill's Faculty Award for Equity and Community Building (2016). More recently, she was the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and Studies in Women Gender and Sexuality Program at Harvard University (2017-18). She was the first black woman, the first McGill professor, and only the second art historian to hold this position. She was also a Fields of the Future Research Fellow at Bard Graduate Center in New York City (2021). 

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