Media @ McGill

Heather Gibb

Submitted by hive on

For my PhD dissertation, I will conduct an in-depth investigation of arts and entertainment culture vis-à-vis the urban, public sphere. Focusing on the specific, local context of Montreal in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, my research will explore how a vast network of commercial amusements-vaudeville houses, fairgrounds, movie theatres and department stores- intersected with a radically transforming public. How, for example, did the increasing independence and visibility of women in Montreal society figure within the changing public sphere? How were the city's many showmen, exhibitors, theatre owners and merchants able to negotiate the sharp divide that existed across geographic, linguistic, economic and ethnic lines? And perhaps most significantly, in what ways were such differences transcended by a collective experience of everyday urban life?

While my study will consider various marginalized groups, communities codified by class, ethnicity and language, my focus will be on the role of women and their relationship to the wider cultural phenomena of modernity. As vaudeville shows, traveling fairs and magic acts began to transform the urban, roaming gaze into a commodity, a growing number of unchaperoned, middle-class women in the public domain were being addressed as consumers and therefore, as subjects with agency. Vaudeville and movie theatre owners often tailored their shows to meet bourgeois standards of feminine taste since at the time, the attendance of female, middle-class patrons became a marker of genteel respectability. These and other venues subsequently opened up a new social space, or, an 'alternative public sphere.' This is one of many ways in which the commodification of the female gaze as well as associations between class, gender and social propriety were at work within the city of Montreal.

My research will rely heavily on an intermedial approach, reading the discursive relationships between local newspapers, magazines, advertisements, photographs, shop windows and guide books of the day. Ultimately, with this research, my aim will be to shed light on how everyday encounters and cultural exchanges within the context of modernity invested the urban space of Montreal with meaning.