Prepping a visual tour of Dal's first 200 years

Toward 200: Dal is developing a pictorial history for its bicentennial

- May 19, 2017

Women from the Class of '05 — 1905, to be exact  — ham it up for posterity. (Dal Archives photo)
Women from the Class of '05 — 1905, to be exact  — ham it up for posterity. (Dal Archives photo)

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting plans in the works for Dalhousie’s 200th anniversary celebrations in 2018. For more features, visit our archives and learn more about Dal 200 at

We already know a lot about Dalhousie's past thanks to the many efforts of university archivists and historians.

But as the university approaches its 200th anniversary, a new book project in the works aims to explore Dal's history from a different perspective: its visual culture.

"I thought it seemed like the perfect project for the 200th, to have a commemorative book that could be a souvenir for staff, graduates and people in the community," says Mona Holmlund, an assistant professor in the Department of History and the book's author.  

The book will take readers on a visual journey across the university's first two centuries through a curated selection of photographs, three-dimensional items that will be treated as artifacts (memorabilia, old newspapers, etc.), and other visual ephemera.

Rather than organize the book chronologically, Dr. Holmlund and collaborator Kim Pittaway — editor on the project — decided to structure it around six distinct themes that capture the spirit of the Dal experience.

There will be chapters on place, academic traditions and celebrations, research and teaching, Dal’s impact in the world, and extracurricular and residence life, as well as a final interactive chapter called ‘My Dal’ where readers can insert their own photos and mementos.

“What I hope it will accomplish is to cause the readers to think about their own relationships with this place and see themselves as part of a larger whole,” says Dr. Holmlund.

A thematic approach

Material will be sourced primarily from the University Archives. Images from bicentennial celebrations will be woven in throughout.

Dr. Holmlund sees the project as akin to a curated exhibition about Dalhousie’s history — but rather than a time-limited event, it’s captured in a more permanent form that can be shared with future generations.

New Brunswick-based Goose Lane Editions will publish the book in the fall of 2018. The 140-page, full-colour hardcover publication will have the look and feel of a coffee-table book rather than a traditional history tome.

Approaching the book thematically made sense given the materials available, says Pittaway, who is consulting editor for Dal Magazine and executive director of the University of King’s College MFA in Creative Nonfiction program.

“We knew that if we took a strictly chronological approach that would mean that we’d be light on visuals for a pretty big chunk of the university’s history,” she says, noting the bulk of the imagery they have access to really kicks in around the end of the First World War — a full century after Dal’s founding.

"Telling the story thematically allowed us to make sure that we were hitting notes that relate to that first century, but still kept the content visually interesting on the page.”

She says captions will be used for storytelling throughout, supplementing introductory essays by Dr. Holmlund at the beginning of the book and each chapter.

Due out fall 2018

Pre-promotion of the book will begin in early 2018 ahead of the fall release. Dr. Holmlund says she hopes the book will satisfy people’s urge to look to the past but also encourage them to look to Dal’s future as it enters its third century.

“It’s nostalgic for people who have experienced this place at different times, but it’s also aspirational,” she says. “What could we make out of the past 200 years? What directions should we go in?”


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