Modern Eyes: A Cultural History of Vision in Rural Nova Scotia, 1880–1910

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Spike, Sara




This dissertation explores a series of interconnected histories of vision and modernity in rural Nova Scotia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Approaching rural life and culture as a history of vision provides a new analytical lens for investigating the ways that rural people encountered, negotiated, and responded to the transformations being felt in both rural and urban places at the time. Informed by sensory history and visual culture studies, this unconventional perspective provides a coherent surface for cultural analysis across topics that are not traditionally discussed together, bringing to light and recuperating a variety of overlooked aspects of rural culture and knowledge. In their encounters with natural science, consumer culture, new technologies, and the Canadian state, rural Nova Scotians engaged in historically-specific practices of observation and articulated unique ideas about vision, which were frequently interlaced with ideas and anxieties about modernity. Chapters include analyses of nature-study and sensory training in rural elementary schools, practices of skilled vision at agricultural exhibitions, the professionalization of optometry in rural communities, the vision of sailors in relation to new maritime navigation infrastructure, and rural outreach from the Halifax School for the Blind. The result is a cultural history that places rural communities in Nova Scotia at the centre in of a conversation about modernity in Canada in the years bracketing the turn of the twentieth century.


Canadian History




Carleton University

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