Special Topics in Information: Freedom of Information: Histories and Counter-Histories


This course (INF2410H – Special Topics in Information: Freedom of Information: Histories and Counter-Histories) focuses on the cultural politics of transparency. Though many take government transparency as an unquestioned ideal of democratic governance, modern freedom of information laws emerged in the context of the Cold War, first in the U.S. and then elsewhere. In this course, we will examine both the histories and counter histories of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), learning about FOIA’s passage, community activism utilizing FOIA, and the subaltern histories of secret archives. While our focus will be on North America (U.S. & Canada), our work will be necessarily transnational, as many of the archives we will examine emerge from covert transnational encounters. Some of the questions we examine will include: What are the political, intellectual, and media histories whereby papers can be requested for public viewing, with the possibility of being censored or denied? What are the sanctioned and unsanctioned practices of transparency? What are the visual politics of censored government documents, living in the public sphere as images that invite shock and speculative awe? How do artists and community activists work to repurpose and reimagine engagements with formerly secret documents?