Colonial Copyright and the Photographic Image: Canada in the Frame

Philip Hatfield

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Under Colonial Copyright Law, the British Museum Library acquired a substantial
collection of Canadian photographs between 1895 and 1924, taken by a variety ofamateurs and professionals across Canada. Due to the agency of individual
photographers, the requirements of copyright legislation and the accumulating principleof the archive, the Collection displays multiple geographies and invites variousinterpretations. Chapter 1 discusses the development of Colonial Copyright Law and its application to photographic works, examining the extent to which the collection was born of an essentially colonial geography of knowledge. The chapter outlines the theoretical underpinnings of the thesis in relation to scholarship on colonial regulation, visual economies and Canadian historical geography. Chapter 2 presents an overview of the evolution of the Collection and provides a discussion of research strategy, focussing on how its diverse contents may inform understandings of Canada’s changing landscape, cities and people.

The substantive core of the thesis examines the contents and genres represented in the collection through a series of linked studies. Chapter 3 considers the photographic representation of Canadian cities, focussing on the use of the camera in Victoria and Toronto to explore the political and commercial aspects of urban change. Chapter 4 explores the interaction of the camera and the railroads, two technologies at the cutting edge of modernity, examining how photography both promoted the railway and depicted the impact of railway disasters. Chapter 5 explores the visual economy of the photographic image through the medium of the postcard, with reference to the Canadian National Exhibition and the Bishop Barker Company of aviators. Chapter 6 considers a variety of views of Native American peoples, the result of the intersection of various photographic impulses with Colonial Copyright Law. The final chapter returns to the Collection as a whole to consider its agency in the digital age.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Social, Cultural and Historical Geography
  • Driver, Felix, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jul 2011
Publication statusUnpublished - 2011


  • Photography
  • Canada
  • British Library
  • Visual economy
  • imperial & colonial History

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