Dr. Tara Mayer is a historian of colonial South Asia whose scholarship traces material and aesthetic exchanges between India, Britain, and France in ways that blur the boundaries of her discipline. Through visual and textual sources that connect the metropole to the colony, her work examines the tension between Enlightenment ideas and the praxis of empire in the construction and contestation of European racial and gendered identities. It explores the deeply reciprocal processes of appropriation, assimilation, and influence that took place at the intersections of European and Asian material culture, as well as the role of racism and colonial power in shaping these exchanges. She has served as a research consultant for international exhibitions on Indian art, Orientalism, and European portraiture and has forged new collaborative partnerships between UBC and the Museum of Vancouver, where she leads an object-based, experiential learning course in the museum’s South Asia collection. She is a Research Associate at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) and led an International Research Roundtable (2019) on the theme of visual literacies, funded by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. She is a recipient of a Killam Teaching Prize (2019), Wall Scholar (2019/20), and holder of the first Peter Wall Residency in Innovative Pedagogy (2020/21). Her teaching practice is centred on challenging historical norms and values around objectivity, neutrality, and safe-space. Her most recent project is an interview series entitled On Feeling and Knowing: Radical Conversations About Teaching and Learning.
Primary Recipient Awards
Within the humanities, a new visual literacy is important not just to better understand and use existing images within our research, but also to create new types of images that can point us towards fresh avenues of research or communicate our findings more effectively. As the use of “big data” has opened up new opportunities in the sciences, the visual representation of this data has become as important a concern as its collection and computation. Resultantly, scientists have developed careful practices around using images as means of communication, which makes them especially sensitive to the power and pitfalls of visual language. Combining such insights with the questions, tools, and priorities of humanities research holds the promise to provoke new methods and ideas on all sides.
This roundtable explores how scholarship from within and beyond the humanities can combine to develop and promote a new visual literacy that responds to the challenges and opportunities of this new, visual information revolution. Its central question is how a more holistic and informed engagement with images can open up new avenues of research.
As a Wall Scholar, Dr. Mayer will advance on a project that lies at the nexus of historical inquiry, critical race and gender theory, and critical pedagogy. New epistemologies, especially around gender, race, and intersectionality, have emerged across the humanities that re-examine how we know what we know. These take into account the historical circumstances that have birthed contemporary academic disciplines and explore how disciplinary ways of knowing, core methodologies and values, as well as metrics of excellence bear traces of—and oftentimes perpetuate—colonial ideologies and assumptions. Her project is currently configured around two axes: the first on Visual Literacy, and the other on Scholarship and Emotion. Displacing the primacy of text in favour of an in-depth and interdisciplinary examination of what it means to be visually literate builds on the understanding that our eyes are instruments of habit, informed by cultural conditioning. This strand will be further developed through a 2019 PWIAS International Research Roundtable on Visual Literacy, convened jointly with Dominic Lopes (2005 PWIAS Distinguished Scholar in Residence). The second axis, on Scholarship and Emotion, expands on an ongoing collaborative SoTL project on how subjectivity, proximity, and embodied experience shape teaching and learning, with the aim of advancing pedagogical practices that do not marginalise or homogenise student experiences.