Ethnography of the University / Ethnography of the University: Focus on Time 2019 / Undergraduate Ethnography

What to do with the Past? (Ethnography of the University 2019: Focus on Time)

This blog post was part of a series of student posts written during coursework for the Ethnographic Practicum courses ANT473 and ANT6200, “Ethnography of the University 2019: Focus on Time”

Landmark as Self-Definition, By Sarah MacDonal

In my investigation of the Landmark renovation I found that the project’s various offices mobilized time to construct an identity for the project. The Landmark project is a disruptive, multi-million dollar renovation aimed at reimagining St. George campus’s core. It covers Front Campus, Back Campus and Hart House circle, as well as the adjoining areas. Over the next few years the project will remove the ‘modern artifacts’ around this part of campus (cars, parking meters, asphalt roads) and replace them with more green space, seating areas and pathways. Speaking with David, a member of Landmark’s marketing team, he expressed the goal of Landmark as elevating the university’s sense of prestige by enhancing and revitalizing the historic aspects of its campus. However, the three motivations I came to identify as to why the university constructs an identity are: i) to attract donors ii) to define itself amongst other universities as ‘high-ranking’ (a more specific interpretation of David’s hunch) and iii) to maintain relevance and appear ‘sensitive’ to the current social moment. Through discourse and physical space, the project mobilizes the temporalities of History and Future to construct an identity in relation to other campuses and city spaces.

In the texts I read while thinking about the renovation and what it’s doing, most of the material I connected with was concerned with ‘public memory’ – unpacking and analyzing memory as a communal phenomenon. Revitalizing the ‘core’ of campus, Landmark is seeking to impact public space, and is therefore directly speaking to the public’s relationship to this space. In an article titled Places of Public Memory, the authors argue that ‘material supports’ (also referred to as ‘technologies’) are employed to facilitate engagement with the past – calling images, objects and places the ‘infrastructure’ of public memory (Dickinson et al. 2010: 10). With Landmark’s material supports projecting imaginings of more than the school’s history (aka. its future), we can claim that these technologies are deployed to help us engage with multiple temporalities. One aspect of the project that we can unpack in thinking about its use of time to connect with the public is its title. What is a ‘landmark’? It is an easily recognizable object or feature that helps you know where you are situated in a landscape.

In the article ‘Landmarks’, Wapke Feenstra considers landscapes to be pieces of land with different dimensions created upon them, and argues that landscapes ‘narrate our relationship to our environment’ (Feenstra 2010: 114). It’s landmarks – layers added to the land – that create these new dimensions by ‘making visible’ a new perspective (dimension) of the landscape (Feenstra 2010). Using Feenstra’s understanding of landscapes and landmarks to think about the decision to name this project, we can infer that this project – in defining itself as a landmark – is intending to reveal and shape new dimensions on campus. Constructing discourse/ rhetoric and physical space that emphasizes the university’s historic character and future utility, the Landmark project reveals both the social life of a space and the importance we place on time as a marker.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Greg, Carole Blair, and Brian L. Ott, eds. Places of public memory: 

The  rhetoric of museums and memorials. University of Alabama Press, 2010.

Feenstra, Wapke. “Landmarks.” Performance Research 15.4 (2010): 107 – 114.

The Technology of Ruins, By Leslie Saunders

“Modernity does not obliterate ancient places; it pushes them into the background”.

Augé, 1995

The antiquity at the University of Toronto becomes a local temporality, in the context of global interest in the future.  Is ruin and ruination a means of “emancipation” from local temporality? Marc Augé’s theory on non-places, brings into focus the way that time is worked on, at the University of Toronto, where the 100th anniversary of Hart House materializes ruination that serves many masters. Barbara Fischer, the Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Art Museum at the U of T said that “Hart House is a product of its time, built when Canada was in the thrall of its colonial status within the British Empire” (HartHouse100, 2019). This situates Hart House in a very specific temporality and suggests that it is fixed there, not just built there.  This speaks to the “Durability of temporality”, a concept that is investigated by Ann Stoler’s work (Stoler, 2016). 

The HartHouse100 campaign is holding the tensions of honouring its prestige in the context of its location within the University of Toronto and its contributions to that institution while at the same time presencing what Stoler defines as “Imperial Debris (Stoler, 2016, p. 336) which begins with its architecture and includes the related history of sexism, racism and classism. The University has deployed the 100th anniversary to provoke change, claiming that antiquity has created an urgency to cleanse through inciting a temporal distancing. This is consistent with Stoler’s call upon us to realize that the “colonial past is only imagined to be over, but in truth persists, reactivates, and recurs” (Stoler, 2016, p. 33). The University cannot tear down the building but I argue that it can and has begun a process of ruination to animate an unbecoming, using the arts as a way to rupture or unsettle the temporality that (as reported by U of T staff I  interviewed), deprives students from all 3 campuses from seeing themselves represented. 

Dora Apel offers another consideration that I borrow in an effort to render the idea of contemporary ruination and ruin, She describes it as a mechanism for the  “promise of renewal and regeneration” (Apel, 2015, p. 22), used to symbolize a receding temporality, antiquity fading into the background. This is done to harden the evidence that the University is not languishing in an irrelevant past but is being steered into the future. The promotional material for the University of Toronto’s Landmark project, animates a before and after, the before depicting the decline of the buildings that include Hart House and Convocation Hall which are made to look grayer and shabbier than we may remember, surrounded by dormant trees,  overcast skies and few to no humans in the scene. I argue that this is a technology that the University uses to work on time and to legitimize investment in temporal ruination as a solution to the problem of the need for physical and psychic regeneration. The after images claim renewal, fertile plants bursting with buds and colour, lush green grass and hordes of healthy young virile men and women in athletic poses, no cars to contaminate this new world order of the campus that calls out to the global students looking for a place to dock. 

The 5-year Landmark strategy of deconstruction that involves all of the area surrounding Hart House as well other pinnacles of antiquity, will excavate and cleanse temporal affect and create a spectacle of future. We can see these efforts being reproduced across the campus, including another example, the Rotman building that captures antiquity and sequesters it behind glass. Standing beneath the domination of the Rotman hyper-contemporary design, we can recognize the relic, a displaced Queen Ann architecture that threatened to disqualify the University from its seat in the global future. 


Augé, M. 1995. Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity. Verso: London.

Apel, D. 2015. Beautiful Terrible Ruins: Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline. Rutgers University Press: New Jersey.,

Stoler, A. 2016. Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Out Times. Duke University Press: London. 

Mobilizing Temporality Through Discourse, By Sarah MacDonald

One of two ways I found temporality was mobilized to define the Landmark renovations was through discourse/ rhetoric, using language and images as the main way it expressed its identity. Put to work in advertising campaigns, banners, reports, renderings, and official reports, these materials are technologies that Landmark’s offices employ to project their vision of the project. In the article Place of Public Memory, the authors argue that project materials allow us to engage with the past and the future insofar as these temporalities are illustrated to us through various material supports. On the ‘about’ page of Landmark’s website, is the equivalent of a mission statement – the project’s self-description.

“The Landmark Project is one of the most significant open-space projects at the University of Toronto in the past 100 years. Our plan, based on more than a year of public consultationenvisions transforming the heart of our downtown campus into a greener more accessible park-like setting, with a stunning network of pedestrian-friendly spaces. When completed, this historic space will once again serve as a thriving center of campus.”

About the Project |

In Marilyn Strathern’s piece, Bullet Proofing, she takes up the ‘mission statement’, discussing how the university uses language to signal things about itself. In the case of Landmark’s mission statement (see bolded lines) three things are being said: i) it is a historically significant project ii) it involved public engagement, and iii) it serves to revitalize an important part of campus. The use of (history/future) temporalities is subtle here, but shows, nonetheless, the fact that the project is aware of how it’s perceived (re: its emphasis on public engagement) and is addressing this in its self-definition. Where the mobilization of history/ future is more apparent is in a booklet detailing the renovation plans. The booklet describes the renovation as a ‘[reimagining of] the historic core that will be enjoyed by Torontonians for generations to come’.

Emphasizing past and future, Landmark involves these two temporalities in its self-description to signal its prestige with reference to its historic character, and its longevity by illustrating the project’s future utility. Thinking about how this language is addressing the public, Dickinson et al. continue to claim that rhetoric is constructed by technologies that are ‘timely, specific, and addressed to a particular audience in particular circumstances’ (Dickinson et al. 2010: 4). Rhetoric is ‘concerned with effect’ and exists to serve a purpose (Dickinson et al. 2010: 4). In the case of Landmark, it is assumed that the public values an institution if it is both historic and can show its future utility. Employment of both history and future has the effect of extending the (image of the) project in both directions, leading to a sense of the university (vis-à-vis Landmark) as timeless. This sense of ‘timelessness’ is the result of the university/ project being able to exist in the past and the future, as illustrated through language and images. 

Works Cited

Dickinson, Greg, Carole Blair, and Brian L. Ott, eds. Places of public memory: The rhetoric of museums and memorials. University of Alabama Press, 2010.

Strathern, Marilyn. “Bullet-proofing: A tale from the United Kingdom.” Documents: Artifacts of modern knowledge (2006): 181-205.

Mobilizing Temporalities in Physical Space, By Sarah MacDonald

In addition to mobilizing time through discourse, a second way I found the university mobilized time was in physical space. Halfway through my fieldwork on the Landmark renovations, I was able to meet with a senior planner from the project, Julie. Similar to my discussion with marketing, Julie emphasized the goal of Landmark as designing a space that ‘compliments the classical architecture’ of Front Campus and Hart House on St. George campus. With its main aims to add significantly more green space to the area and remove the ‘modern artifacts’, the winning design submission (by KPMB Architects) seeks to generate a historic feel within the campus’ core. Mapping history – rendering a specific history visible – uses space as a ‘material support’, it is a physical and visual way Landmark can communicate its identity to the public. By removing ‘modern artifacts’ and replacing them with features we currently perceive as reminiscent of the past (green space, old stone buildings, walking trails) the project is projecting the university’s historic character. In addition to the paths and green space, underground parking will be built underneath the front lawn, with amenities like electric car parking, bicycle storage and a geothermal field. These hidden modern amenities are ways in which the project is addressing current-future concerns – for example, the geothermal field and electric car park can be assumed to be responses to current concerns about the future ‘climate crisis’.

A second way history is mapped in Landmark is through the indigenous garden planned for Hart House Circle. Currently, there are canons along the lawn. Their presence maps the university’s colonial history by making this history visible through artifacts.

Through Landmark, the land’s indigenous history will instead be actualized with the introduction of an ‘indigenous garden’ and art instillations. The mapping of indigenous history through artifacts illuminates the affective power the canons have had in imbuing Hart House Circle with a sense of colonial history. The decision to switch out the mapping of colonial history for an indigenous one is another way the project is responding to contemporary issues. Choosing now, a time when indigenous rights are recognized as a social-political concern, to acknowledge indigenous history in the space and make room for it in our collective consciousness.

Rhetoric is constructed by technologies (language, images) with the intention of communicating with a particular audience and that audiences’ interests and concerns. Spaces are also created with this in mind – they are designed to communicate with those using the space. This explains why – despite an interest in safeguarding the university’s historic image – the project is careful in choosing which history is preserved and how. On the last page of the Landmark proposal booklet lead KPMB architect, Shirley Blumberg, is quoted as saying: “we’re taking iconic spaces with great bones and returning them to their former glory […] but it’s not a restoration; UofT and Toronto are very different places than when these spaces were built”. Landmark wants to renew St. George’s historic character, but only in a way that is compatible with projections of the future.

Time Constitutes the Other, By Leslie Saunders

Has the 100th anniversary of Hart House started a revolution or is there a revolution that is instrumentalizing the anniversary? Until I was given an opportunity to engage in fieldwork that focused on understanding time at the University of Toronto, I was not aware of how contentious temporality is here. Since beginning my project, the labour of managing the University’s past as a means to securing its future has come into sharp focus. 

The Landmark project to “rejuvenate” could be seen to perform what Fabian refers to as a “temporal conception of movement” (Fabian, 1983, p. 95) an effort by the authority of the University to demonstrate “a passage from savagery to civilization” (Fabian, 1983, p. 95) that I argue could be understood in the use of images, speeches and discourse that are circulating currently to produce the conditions of temporal dissonance. The ruination of antiquity seems to be an occupation, one to which there has been and will continue to be considerable investment of finance and social capital. 

The past is arguably emblemized in the antiquity that is peppered across the campus. Hart House, University College, Trinity College, Knox College are all beacons of empire that have the potential to freeze the University in a time warp that cannot mitigate criticisms amidst the global desire for decolonizing and erasure of what Stoler refers to as  the “Debris of empire” (Stoler, 2016). In the HartHouse100 promotional material, Barbara Fischer, the Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Art Museum at the U of T says “Hart House is a product of its time, built when Canada was in the thrall of its colonial status within the British Empire” (HartHouse 100). While Ms. Fischer is here gesturing to the “Debris of empire” the tense of her statement suggests that an eviction of the past has occurred despite the fact that for instance, the Indian Act remains in place to legislate “Indianness” and the domination of Indigenous lives. Her commentary doesn’t go far enough to make the assertion that the architecture and artifacts associated with Hart House alone, continue to be unrestrained and therefore actively constitute marginal subjectivities and exclusions. 

A 100-year anniversary in a settler-colonial context is suspect, and as we stand and take inventory in the midst of this period of Truth and Reconciliation, Hart House finds itself having to lay bare its temporal skeletons and ghosts or someone else will. I maintain that the rhetorical work of the HartHouse100 campaign is producing some robust examples of what Fabian described as the “use of Space and Time in anthropology” (Fabian,1983, p. 111), to produce what he calls a (new) “political cosmology” (Fabian,1983, p. 111). This is produced by storytelling along a trajectory that begins with Vincent Massey a man understood to have aligned himself with Nazi’s and yet is so central to the birth of and founding principles of Hart House. The timeline continues along through decades of painful exclusions that followed and then advances to images of Muslim prayer groups established inside Hart House, artistic representations of Black Lives Matter and Indigenous artists (re)interpretting the space and time of Hart House. In the epoch of Truth and Reconciliation, this does look like a progressive advance from the dark ages and a University that can hold a seat in the future.


Fabian, J., 1983. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. Columbia University Press: New York.,

Stoler, A. 2016. Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Out Times. Duke University Press: London. 

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