Friday, 30 January 2015

Domains of Literature - Introduction and Context

Every university, every department, has its own practices regarding comprehensive and qualifying examinations. Usually these include "fields" or "domains" of literature which are either standardized across the department or completely open. In my department the individual PhD committee has great leeway in deciding what goes into the domains and my committee challenged me to come up with a base list, which they then commented on and added to.

This is harder than it seems. Sure in being given latitude to decide I had the chance to stack the list, so to speak, with works I was already familiar with. But, as my supervisor said, I should pay attention to my committee and the journals they publish in, who they cite in their work and teach in their courses, who they would put on the list if they were creating it.

Beyond the literature I already knew, my committee's publications, and the every increasing fractal search cross referencing common citations brings, I found online syllabi and lists of departments and other individuals who've completed their exams extremely useful. In that spirit, I have reproduced my lists here for those who may be going down the same rabbit hole as me.

Even more, one of the worst kept secrets in the department is a questions about how you would go about teaching one of your domains (and we're told to think of them as teachables). As a result I created three syllabi, one per domain, which I will also share for those who may find them useful. Remember, they're not actual courses, but rather thought experiments. I recommend anyone studying their domains to try this exercise and to think as an instructor, not as a student.

The rest of this post is a slightly modified version of my "domains essay" that introduced the lists in my proposal. Each of the domains lists and syllabi can be found in their own post, linked in the list below.

My research is supported by three domains of literature:

a. Historical geography of Canada and agricultural settler colonialism;
b. Geographies of science; and,
c. Public history and the geography of storytelling.

These domains encompass important themes that lie at the heart of this proposal: the Canadian colonial project, scientific networks, and the place of memory and location of sources in historical geography research. While acknowledging their differences, the three domains intersect along a number of points including the interrogation of dominant narratives, opening spaces of resistance and collaboration, and exploring multi-scalar networks. Finally, these domains provide guidance for future secondary readings.

The first domain, the historical geography of Canada and agricultural settler colonialism, provides the national and international contexts of the Farm. As stated above, the Farm played an important role in the Canadian colonial project within the wider British Empire and with the backdrop of the expansion of the United States to the south. This domain looks beyond historical geographies of Canada to include readings in the growing fields of settler colonial studies, environmental history, and envirotechnical history. Uncovering the connections between agriculture, the environment, science, technology, Aboriginal communities and settlers, these readings provide the basis for a critical understanding of the Farm’s place in Canada as well as Canada’s place in wider imperial and colonial narratives.

Geographies of science, the second domain, focuses on literature that, following David Livingstone (2003), puts science in its place. The Central Experimental Farm is one of those places, home to both experimental fields and laboratories. The places of science exist across a variety of scales, from small allotment gardens to international and imperial networks. Geographers of science have explored not only the sites of research, but also geographies of the more-than-human world including plants and non-human animals. Building on work in science and technology studies, this domain explores the sites, networks, agents, production, performance and distribution of scientific knowledge.

The final domain, public history and the geography of storytelling, looks at both methodological questions in historical geography research and modes of presenting that research. Public historians are a diverse community of practitioners fundamentally interested in the ways historical knowledge is created and presented to broad and multifaceted publics in various locations such as archives and museums. Geographers of storytelling are concerned with the spatial dimensions of stories, how they’re told and how landscapes become inscribed with meaning and discourses. This domain finds natural linkages between these sub-fields, particularly in the recent work of a group of British geographers under the auspices of ‘anticipatory history’ (see: DeSilvey 2012 and DeSilvey, Naylor and Sackett 2011). As such it provides the basis for exploring the contingent nature of the documents, landscapes and material cultures that form the core of the proposed research as well as addressing concerns regarding the narrative form of this thesis project.