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

The Landmark Project: Mobilizing Temporalities, By Sarah McDonald (Ethnography of the University 2019: Focus on Time)

This final paper was part of the coursework for the Ethnographic Practicum courses ANT473 and ANT6200, “Ethnography of the University 2019: Focus on Time”


Walking through the heart of St. George, the most memorable aspect of the campus is its old, castle-like buildings and expansive lawns. Sitting with David1, from the University of Toronto’s marketing office, he emphasized these features. Beyond acknowledging their beauty, we spoke about how these old, gothic-style buildings and green space evoke a historic feel of the university. Focusing on the aesthetic function of these features, David asked if I had ever been to Harvard or Oxford, and if not, did I have a sense of what being on those campuses might feel like? I agreed that I did, imagining old, castle-like buildings and expansive lawns. It’s this historicity – specifically the collegial brand – that imbues a school with a sense of prestige. Though St. George has the old buildings and the green space, it’s still missing the mark as far as campuses go. One hurdle David identified as stopping St. George from achieving Harvard-Campus status are its modern artifacts – cars, parking meters, asphalt roads. Especially those surrounding King’s College Circle, the historic core of campus. Removing the cars, replacing the roads with stone walkways and adding green space would fix this disjuncture between the historic and the unexceptional, elevating the university and its campus. 


Imagining ways to think about time at the university, my initial idea was to examine an intersection on campus. It was the first place that came to mind where time was explicitly expressed – timed lights, the pace of traffic/ pedestrians. My interest in the crosswalk was to examine how infrastructure, the physical structures on campus, 

1 Aliases used for all interviewees.

organize and control individual time. Looking for evidence of how the individual’s time 

is controlled or organized uses a quantitative concept of time, thinking of time in terms of ‘blocs’: minutes, hours, parts of the day. Pivoting, instead, to examining a campus renovation, the kind of ‘time’ I have analyzed throughout my fieldwork is more conceptual – thinking of time in terms of temporalities. Searching for a significant renovation on campus, I chose the Landmark Project, a disruptive, multi-million dollar renovation aimed at reimagining the campus’s core over the next few years. However, initially I still approached time in terms of the individual, looking for ways the renovation would change the space that impacted personal time. For example, looking for clues of increased accessibility, streamlined pathways; technological integration – ways the university was trying to make its space more efficient and, therefore, increase the efficiency (speed) of individuals using the space. 

Encompassing Front and Back Campus, and Hart House Circle, I started my investigation of Landmark by attending a walking tour of the area in order to orient myself within the site. What caught my attention during this initial survey wasn’t a push for more modern amenities, but language that recalled the school’s history and emphasized its heritage. This emphasis on history and heritage inspired me to think about the renovation as a means by which projects of the university invoke time. Instead of asking how the university’s offices and administration control time, I was now asking how they construct campus spaces to present the university as being of a certain time. 

Starting my research by examining Landmark’s website, I was looking for how the project was being framed through language and images. Similar to my finding from the walking tour, the website’s rhetoric invoked narratives of history and future, framing the renovation as both ‘historic’ and a ‘future legacy’. This language remained consistent throughout all the project materials, and, I suspect, is used as a way of signaling the project’s importance in order to garner attention. Hoping to gain deeper insight into how language is used to market the project, I met with a member of the marketing team, David. During our meeting, David explained how the branding strategy for the project was to create a sense of community and membership to the university. Targeting alumni, the main forms donations take are dedications on trees, benches or gardens; memorializing oneself or a loved one. The temporal effect of memorialization is two-fold, you’re securing a place for yourself as part of the school’s history going into the future. This duality of history/future was the most consistent use of ‘time’ throughout the project. 

Wanting to expand my scope beyond the marketing aspect of the project, I sat down with Julie, a senior planner in charge of coordinating the different branches of Landmark – architects, contractors, marketing; public outreach. My goal for speaking with Julie was to understand how time was being mobilized in physical space as well as in rhetoric. After the interview Julie forwarded me additional resources, including the proposals from each architectural firm involved in Landmark’s design competition, and a final report on public feedback. However, what stood out the most from our conversation – and what I consider a turning point in my research – was her mention of ‘mapping history’. Mapping history is when a specific History (for example: colonial, indigenous) is expressed and rendered visible in physical space. In this case, Julie was referring to plans for ‘indigenous features’ to be incorporated into the landscape of the Hart House lawn. This plan would map the land’s indigenous history by rendering it visible through ‘indigenous features’ like indigenous vegetation, a teaching platform and an art instillation representing Taddle Creek. 

The idea of ‘mapping history’ had me thinking about the act of mobilizing temporality and the motivation to do it. This is where my thinking around time started to solidify. Looking over the research I had collected I began to see the offices responsible for Landmark as actors that mobilize temporality through Landmark – the main offices being: the Office of Campus and Facilities Planning, the Leadership and Annual Giving Program, and those of the Boundless Campaign. The question I ended up asking myself was: In what ways does the university mobilize temporality to construct its identity? Initially I was looking at how discourse and space are constructed to say something about time in the changes Landmark will introduce, what I found was these mechanisms being manipulated to say something about the project itself. Through discourse and physical space, the project’s offices mobilize the temporalities of History, Future and Timelessness to construct an identity. 

Research Method

Since the Landmark renovations haven’t begun, beyond my initial tour of the site, most of my research involved engaging with project documents (advertising, reports and renderings) and conducting interviews. In analyzing project materials I was looking for language and themes that reveal how the project is involving ‘time’.  Since claims of historicity are central to how the project invokes temporality, I also examined archives to observe the historical development of the area. Until halfway through my research I relied on rhetoric to infer what the project was saying about (its) time, searching my materials for obvious language like ‘innovative’ and ‘historic’. In an attempt to manoeuver myself out of this rut, I turned back to the site for evidence of History and change. Realizing that I’d been discussing the ‘history’ of campus’ core without actually knowing what it looked like historically, I examined an archive of aerial shots of the site dating back over the last 70 years. Furthermore, the two interviews I conducted involved David, from Landmark’s marketing team, and Julie, a senior planner from the project. The diversity of the material I was able to access gave me multiple angles from which to analyze the renovation, enriching my research and contextualizing my findings. 

Communication Technologies and Public Memory

Flooded with documents from the project, my attention was first drawn to how temporality is mobilized in the advertising, proposals and reports from Landmark. It is clear from being on Front Campus that it is a significant public space in Toronto. It offers some of the largest green space in the city’s downtown core and houses countless historic buildings. On any given day students and non-students alike can be seen using this part of campus. Nonetheless, Front Campus as ‘public space’ is reaffirmed in the descriptions of Landmark as well as in the existence of the Public Feedback Report and the third stated principle of the project, which is to create ‘public space that animates the campus’. While David expressed the goal of Landmark as elevating the university’s sense of prestige by enhancing and revitalizing the historic aspects of its campus, the three motivations I came to identify as to why the university’s various offices are compelled to construct a specific identity for the university 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. It is not to the benefit of a university (expressed through its various projects) to appear insular. 

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. Reading Communication as Collective Memory, by Carole Blair, she makes a point to define ‘memory’ and ‘history’. Different in nature, memory is appropriation while history is the ‘reconstruction of what is no longer there’ (Blair 2006: 2). Extending on the comparison, Blair quotes historian Pierre Nora who states that history can only be conceived of in relation to things, whereas memory “takes root in concrete, in space, gestures, images and objects” (Blair 2006: 3). In a separate article, Blair – along with Greg Dickinson and Brian Ott, echo 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. Public memory is a useful concept for our purposes because it is “a performance of social collectives” whose technologies represent a ‘deliberate attempt to shape public feeling’ (Blair 2006: 3-4). This makes it a productive frame to analyze how and why a renovation would be used to construct the university’s identity. 

Mobilizing Temporality: Discourse

As mentioned, the two ways I found Landmark mobilizes temporality are through discourse/ rhetoric and in physical space. Language and images are the most obvious tools Landmark uses to express its identity. Put to work in advertising campaigns, on banners around campus, in booklets describing the project, and in official reports and proposals, they are technologies that Landmark’s offices employ to project their vision of the project. As per Blair, Dickinson and Ott, project materials allow us to engage with the past and the future insofar as these temporalities are illustrated to us through the 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 consultation, envisions 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. The example she uses is that by saying [an institution] ‘encourages activity of the highest quality’, what is being said is that the institution itself is of the highest quality (Strathern 2006: 184). 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. Because this project is (re) constructing a public space, it needs to do more than express itself in a statement; it needs to create a sense of membership to the space by involving the community in the project’s activities. This requires creating a collective knowledge of the place (campus core), which involves creating a ‘memory’ of place – a place constructed with rhetorical technologies (Dickinson et al. 2010). 

Where the mobilization of history/ future is more apparent is in the banners around King’s College Circle (appendix A) and in quotes from a booklet detailing the renovation plans. The Boundless Campaign, the campaign under which Landmark is funded, is advertised on the banners as a ‘historic success’, and that ‘with you the future is boundless’. In the booklet specific to Landmark, similar language is used, describing the renovation as a ‘[reimagining of] the historic core that will be enjoyed by Torontonians for generations to come’ (appendix B). Emphasizing past and future, these two temporalities are involved in the description of Landmark (instead of emphasizing the present) 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). Communication reconstructs identities (of the project; the university) in accordance with collectives and their concerns; these collectives (the university community) often have strong narratives (memories) sustaining this connection (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.

Mobilizing Temporality: Physical Space

The second way I noticed the university was mobilizing time was in physical space. Halfway through my fieldwork, I was able to meet with a senior planner, Julie. Similar to my discussion with David, Julie emphasized the goal of Landmark as designing a space that ‘compliments the classical architecture’ of Front Campus and Hart House. In the introduction I mentioned Julie’s use of the term ‘mapping history’ – this is how temporalities are mobilized in physical space, and there are two examples of this in Landmark. The first has to do with the general vision for the space. 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. While reading over materials that documented this – calling it a ‘revitalization’ of campus – I realized I didn’t know how campus had changed over time. Looking over an archive of aerial shots of campus from the 1950’s onward, nothing much has changed, save for the addition of a few buildings around the perimeter including the Medical Sciences building (appendix C). Yet, Landmark intends to make significant changes by removing the roads and adding a ‘necklace of stone paths’. Knowing that this area on campus hasn’t seen significant change  in the last 70 years reveals a different, more flexible, way that Landmark’s offices are invoking ‘history’ – creating a feeling rather than recreating a physical fact. The Landmark project wants the university to feel historic; it’s not trying to emulate the campus’ actual history. 

Mapping history uses space as a ‘material support’, it is a physical and visual way Landmark’s identity can be communicated to the collective. By removing ‘modern artifacts’ and replacing them with features we currently perceive as reminiscent of the past (green space, old stone buildings, 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 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 are in response to current concerns about the future ‘climate crisis’.

The second example of history being mapped is 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. The introduction of the indigenous garden will entail removing the canons from the space – rendering the colonial history enacted in the canons invisible. Instead, the land’s indigenous history will be actualized through the introduction of an ‘indigenous garden’ and art instillations, where it is currently denied – invisible. In the article “Mapping Dispossession, Mapping Affect”, the authors use demographic data and changes of the physical space to illustrate the social life of a space and how it has changed over time (Maharawal et al. 2018). Addressing ‘differential histories’, the authors argue that the contradictions that are illuminated when we recognize the existence of different histories in the same places can help us think about the social life of space. The mapping of the land’s indigenous history through these artifacts illuminates the affective power the canons have had in imbuing Hart House Circle with a sense of colonial history. This decision to switch out the mapping of a 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.

As we have discussed, rhetoric is constructed by technologies (like language and images) with the intention of communicating with a particular audience and that audiences’ interests and concerns (Dickinson et al 2010). Spaces, as seen in these examples, are also created with this in mind – they are designed to communicate with those using the space. In analyzing how the Landmark project employs temporalities in constructing discourse and space, theory on public memory helps us see this effort to construct an image of the project as cognizant of present and future (social) conditions. 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 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” (appendix D). Landmark wants to renew St. George’s historic character, but only in a way that is compatible with projections of the future.


Collectives ‘tell their past to themselves and others’ in order to understand their present conditions (Dickinson et al. 2010: p. 6). Having the authority to construct specific narratives about the university, university offices and projects have the means to make choices about how to remember/ express the past based on what narratives are ‘instructive’ (Dickinson et al 2010: p. 7). Blair, Dickinson and Ott argue that the main function of memory isn’t to preserve the past “but to adapt it so as to enrich and manipulate the present” (Dickinson et al 2010: p. 7). As our present conditions change and shape what investments we need to make into the future, collectives construct their public memory to assist in the process. I have unpacked how Landmark uses discursive technologies and physical space to define itself in relation to other campuses and city spaces. Having an understanding, now, of how and why Landmark is employing the temporalities of history and future to define itself, the decision to title the project Landmark seems like a significant choice. 

What is a ‘landmark’? It is an easily recognizable object or feature that helps you know where you are situated in a landscape. Wapke Feenstra, in her article ‘Landmarks’, 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

Blair, Carole. “Collective memory.” GJ Shepherd, J. St. John, & T. Striphas (Eds.), 

Communication as…: Perspectives on theory (2006): 51-59.

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.

Maharawal, Manissa, and Erin McElroy. “Mapping Dispossession, Mapping Affect.” 

Anthropology News 59.6 (2018): e70-e77.

Strathern, Marilyn. “Bullet-proofing: A tale from the United Kingdom.” Documents: 

Artifacts of modern knowledge (2006): 181-205.


Appendix A.

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Appendix B.
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Appendix C. 

Front Campus 1952, Retrieved From:

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Appendix D.Macintosh HD:Users:sarahmcdonald:Desktop:IMG_1060.jpg

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