PROFile: ‘I’m constantly learning from students’

Dr. Serena Keshavjee, professor, Department of History

Supplied photo

“I can do varied research here, but I also still get to teach, which is a real pleasure,” Dr. Serena Keshavjee says.

She teaches modern art and architectural history in the history department at the University of Winnipeg (U of W).

“I teach everywhere from the enlightenment to the contemporary period, but I publish on late-19th century French art,” she says. “I’ve also published on Winnipeg art and architecture, and I have moved into 20th century visual culture that involves art and science, especially the way that artists looked at science and the way that scientists looked at art.”

Currently, Keshavjee is working on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded project with a working title of Photographing Ghosts. The University of Manitoba has an archive, the Hamilton Family fonds, with hundreds of photos by Winnipeg spiritualists Thomas and Margaret Hamilton, who controversially claimed they captured images of spirits and ectoplasmic excretions. “We might understand (each of these) as a ghost or a transpersonality.”

“I work now with some really smart (research assistants). They are supporting my research, helping me, and we’re talking together, and figuring things out together,” Keshavjee says.

Keshavjee also coordinates the curatorial practices master’s stream of the U of W cultural-studies program. “Students take both practical and theoretical classes,” she says. “We’re attracting superstars.”

For the practicum, students work with local institutions. “I always say to students, you can put in six to eight hours a week, but if there’s an exhibition coming and they need you to work 15 hours, you don’t just leave. It’s hands on deck, and you get it up there. That’s what a hard deadline is like in the real world.”

What was your worst grade in university?

“I think it has to be stats. I just got a terrible grade. I realize now that I probably should have found a better way to conquer that and not let it ruin the entire (psychology) undergraduate degree for me.”

What do you like most about Winnipeg?

“There’s a huge intellectual life. I can’t keep up with all the lectures that are going on. But we also have all the arts. This is a big art centre.”

What do you do in your spare time?

“I do things with my hands that involve crafting, and it’s very refreshing. It’s very satisfying. It’s very nice to produce something ... even if it’s not very good.”

Published in Volume 77, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 22, 2022)

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