Visual and Material Culture Studies shifts away from the interpretation of texts, which has dominated critical discourse for centuries, toward an examination of images, objects, and spaces.
At a Glance
At Mount Allison, Visual and Material Culture Studies courses are offered in two streams.
- Visual culture — pertains to images, viewership, visual media, and practices of looking.
- Material culture — encompasses all human-made and modified objects from the past and our contemporary world.
Visual and Material Culture Studies offers students innovative programming unique in its multidisciplinary composition, cross-cultural and trans-historical approach, and inclusive focus.
BA in Visual and Material Culture Studies
Visual and Material Culture Studies integrates both streams of courses in visual and material culture.
At its core, this program is the study of non-verbal or non-textual forms of expression from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Visual and Material Culture Studies is available as:
- BA major
- BA honours
- Minor in any degree (24 credits)
Minor in Visual Communication and Culture
(24 credits, courses in visual culture stream)
A minor in Visual Communication and Culture offers cross-cultural and interdisciplinary programming that encourages students to develop a comparative perspective on visual expression, communication, and culture.
Core courses are designed to provide theoretical and contextual knowledge of visual culture.
Certificate in Visual Literacy and Culture
(18 credits, courses in visual culture stream)
An undergraduate certificate in Visual Literacy and Culture is intended to assist you in developing visual literacy skills — decoding visual communication, describing and interpreting images, using visual materials proficiently and creatively, and understanding the impact of visual culture.
VMCS 1201 — Introduction to Visual Culture: the Power of Images and Viewers
This course provides a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary introduction to visual culture from ancient civilizations to our contemporary global world. It presents key terms, concepts, and issues that are central to the study of images, visuality, practices of looking, as well as visual media, technology, and culture. It deconstructs the mechanism and impact of visual communication by illuminating how images exert power in specific geographic and cultural contexts, manufacture desire in viewers and consumers, and construct meaning and experience through time. Lectures target the acquisition of visual literacy and the understanding of visual culture around the world.
VMCS 1301 — Introduction to Material Culture: Knowledge and Its Textures
This course provides a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary introduction to material culture from ancient civilizations to our contemporary global world. It presents key terms, concepts, and issues that are central to the study of materiality, including maker and creation practices, modes of objectification and commodification, and material ways of knowing often set aside by textually-expressed knowledge. By decentring the text and focusing on the material world, this course will allow a better understanding of otherwise overlooked knowledge and experiences. This course offers a range of approaches to material culture drawing from anthropology, archeology, art history, archival and curatorial studies, the history of the book, ethno-history, Indigenous studies, marketing, museology, race studies, sound studies, and women's and gender studies.
VMCS 2201 — Maps and Empire: Uncovering the Instruments of Imperial Ambition
Cartography implies not only the visualization of space, but also the creation of tools that can powerfully define and delineate space in political, social, and cultural ways, which give rise to borders and exclude or include people, things, and resources in life-changing ways. This course digests several thousand years of mapping in the western and non-western worlds to teach students how maps work and what types of knowledge they express. Students will be exposed to the uses and implications of mapping as an instrument that furthers the ambitions of kings, presidents, and even academics. Students will also be exposed to non-western ways of articulating space and reflect on how the digital realm is urgently requiring our society to assess the ways that maps control how we know the world around us.
CANA 2201 — Experience the Arts
This course introduces students to critical assessment of culture and arts. Students attend, discuss, and write about Canada-focused (national and local) cultural events such as public lectures, visits to local historic sites, concerts, exhibitions, and plays.
VMCS 3241 — Field Course in Visual Culture in the City
This course offers an immersive opportunity to experience and examine visual culture in a real, non-simulated context though a first-hand encounter with images and visual representation. Fieldwork is designed to facilitate the direct application of key terms, concepts, and issues in visual culture to the analysis of images, practices of looking, and media of communication. Visits to sites of significance in visual culture (archives, castles, churches, libraries, monuments, museums, palaces, etc.), interactions with local image producers, and interest-guided exploration will illuminate how images communicate meaning, exert power in a specific geographic and cultural context, inspire desire in the viewer, and travel across borders.
VMCS 3811 — Images and Texts / Images et Textes
This course explores the intersection of verbal texts and visual arts in Francophone literature and culture from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century. It adopts an interdisciplinary approach to examine how, different yet inseparable, words and images have always interacted with each other in a variety of ways and forms such as verbal portraiture, literary references to pictorial works, engravings and photographs used as illustrations or book covers, and the use of words in paintings.
Find a full list of courses in our Academic Calendar — Visual and Material Culture Studies
Dr. Lauren Beck
Associate professor, Hispanic Studies/Visual and Material Culture Studies
Whether you're entering the job market or continuing your education, your Mount Allison degree will stand out.
Mount Allison has been recognized by Maclean's as the top primarily undergraduate university in Canada more times than any other university.
With experiential learning and career development opportunities available in every degree, you'll also graduate with hands-on learning and real-world experience.
Our graduates also boast extraordinarily high acceptance rates to top graduate programs and professional schools such as law and medicine.
Popular career paths in visual and material culture studies include:
- the arts, culture, and creative industries
- communications and media relations
- government and not-for-profit leadership
- heritage and conservation
- journalism and publishing
- marketing and advertising
Learning about and understanding different cultures is useful in any degree, job, or field to ensure amicable relationships. Visual communication, anything that is non-verbal, is also important. The material covered in this program is very much relevant to daily life.
Centre for Early Modern Visual Culture
Mount Allison is home to the Centre for Early Modern Visual Culture (CEMVC), a physical and virtual resource for scholars, students, and the public.
The Centre offers research collections focused primarily on engravings and maps published in books between 1400 and 1900. Researchers examine critical questions about visuality from this period, questions that continue to impact how we see the world around us today.
Several Mount Allison students work as research assistants in the Centre, enriching their undergraduate experience through experiential learning.