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History of Design Research Seminar Series

Due to nation-wide UCU industrial action, the seminars on 24th Feb, and 2nd and 4th March are to be rescheduled to later dates. Please contact [email protected] for updates.

The V&A/RCA History of Design Research Seminar Series provides a forum for engaging with new thinking in the history of design and material culture, including cutting-edge research in related fields such as anthropology, economic history, the history of art and architecture, medical humanities and the history of science and technology

Seminars take place on throughout the academic year and are open to all with an interest in the field. All seminars are free and you are advised to arrive early, as space is strictly limited. External attendees are asked to contact [email protected] to reserve a seat. 

Talks take place from 2–3.30pm at the RCA's Kensington or Battersea Sites. 
Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, Kensington, London SW7 2EU

Research Seminars 2020

13 JanuaryPaul Basu, Professor of Anthropology,  SOAS, University of London on Re-mobilizing Colonial Collections in Decolonial Times: Exploring the Affordances of an Ethnographic Archive

Lecture Theatre 1, Darwin Building, RCA Kensington

This presentation reports on the work of the AHRC-funded ‘Museum Affordances’ project and its work with the ethnographic collections and archives originally assembled by the Government Anthropologist N. W. Thomas in West Africa between 1909 and 1915. This comprehensive ethnographic archive, which includes artefacts, photographs, sound recordings, botanical specimens, field notes and published reports, was assembled in the context of a series of anthropological surveys sponsored by the colonial governments of Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone. It is doubtful that the surveys ever fulfilled whatever governmental purposes they were perceived to afford and the assembled materials were effectively ‘shelved’ in various institutions, where, for the most part, they have remained dormant and hidden away in storage for over a century. Now the collections are part of a museological experiment in which they are being re-assembled, re-circulated and re-configured in order to explore what they afford to different stakeholders, not least in the context of demands to decolonize museums and archives. The presentation reflects on the different ways the project is attempting to mobilize the ethnographic archive in West Africa and the UK through ‘archival returns’, ‘diasporic reconnections’ and ‘creative reengagements’. In particular, through such interventions, the project considers what decolonial possibilities these explicitly colonial collections might afford. For further information about the project, please see

3 FebruaryRoyce Mahawatte, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies, Central Saint Martins on Tailoring Caucacity: Nineteenth-Century Men’s Fashion and the Elite Body

Senior Common Room, Darwin Building, RCA Kensington

This paper explores the construction of whiteness inherent in the tailoring of the early nineteenth-century menswear. From the mid 1820s onwards, male gender performance was increasingly linked to the fashioned male body and the wearing of the ‘unpadded’ suit. Changes in design methods, the rise of tailoring as a profession and a developing fashion media began to challenge the idea of the gentlemen from one based on inheritance and lineage, to one based on the presentation of self via the body. The disciplined body of the elite man, whether suited or in military costume, was one that could administer Great Britain’s imperial project abroad, whilst also consolidating the status of an expanding middle class at home.

This paper will look at tailoring as a way of constructing the elite male body, an idea presented by Christopher Breward and Jonathan Harvey. In these discussions, the white raced body is not addressed, but of course, whiteness does not reveal itself willingly. I, therefore, will present the suit as constructing Regency and proto-Victorian caucasity. This happened not just because of the suit’s economic value, but also because of the way the garment and taste were presented in fashion media.

Drawing on excerpts of ‘dandy novels’ by Edward Bulwer Lytton and Samuel Warren, Regency fashion editorial, and the tailoring manuals of Henry Wampen and W Hearne, I will look at how the male body was systematized through developing codes of measuring and notation, and consequently, positioned against non-white, colonized bodies, the working classes and Jewish people. At the same time, accusations of effeminacy and ‘dandyism’ punctuated a rising fashion culture for men, which presented hegemonic power through a new male silhouette. 

10 February: Neil Ewins, Senior Lecturer in Design and Contextual Studies, University of Sunderland on Regionalism and Authenticity in a Globalized World: the Case of English Ceramics.

STE 03, Stevens Building, RCA Kensington 

In the last chapter of Frances Hannah’s Ceramics: Twentieth Century Design of 1986, the possible future of English ceramics was briefly discussed. It was predicted how there would be a continued growth of multi-nationalism, the utilization of world-wide cheap labour, and a declining tendency to manufacture surface-designs to suit national tastes and different markets. These observations have much in common with what is related to the characteristics of globalization. In a context of a surge world-wide competition and factory closures, the focus of this seminar is how the English ceramic industry (centred around the Staffordshire Potteries) has responded to globalization. The surprise, perhaps, is how there has not been a complete collapse, or disappearance of the ceramic industry. As evidenced by marketing strategy and design, a renewed interest in regionalism and issues of authenticity have also become some of the qualities of contemporary ceramics. In short, the actual consequences of globalization remain complex and diverse. 

24 FebruaryAnna Maerker, Reader in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Department of History, King's College London on Making Model Communities: Artificial Bodies and Reform in the Nineteenth Century

DAR LG44, Darwin Building, RCA Kensington

In recent decades, cultural historians have paid close attention to representations of the body in health and disease, demonstrating the deeply value-laden character of supposedly objective medical images, models, and museum displays. In particular, historians have suggested that the creation of body images in the late eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries went hand in hand with the emergence of particularly modern identities characterised by self-control and optimisation of productivity. In contrast I want to suggest that anatomical models were not just used to impose specific identities. They have also been used and reinterpreted in different ways which allowed users, in more or less radical ways, to articulate new types of identities and to shape new forms of communities. A challenge for historians working with anatomical representations, then, is how to tell stories about these medical objects in a way that acknowledges their disciplinary power while also recovering their potential not just for personal fulfilment through the adoption of sanctioned personal identities, but also for the articulation of new types of identities and communities. Today, I want to briefly introduce cases of anatomical model use which illustrate how models were employed in efforts to create new identities and communities through processes of emulation, focusing on public health activists in the U.S. and new groups of medical practitioners in Egypt.

2 March: Naomi Paxton, Knowledge Exchange Fellow, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London on New ways, new stories: Votes for Women and the Edwardian Stage

Senior Common Room, Darwin Building, RCA Kensington

9 March: Deniz Turker, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, History of Art, University of Cambridge on Exhibiting Ottoman Photograph Albums: Surveying, Documenting, and Gifting

Senior Common Room, Darwin Building, RCA Kensington

Research Seminars 2018/19

Wednesday 3 October: Vaibhav Singh, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Reading on 'Minding the Machine: Technological Change and Typographic Resistance in Colonial India'

Lecture Theatre 1, Darwin Building, RCA Kensington

In colonial India, as the hand-compositor faced the keyboard operator, the social-reformer the technocrat, the impending contestations between cultural, political, and technological aspects of communication were nowhere more clearly expressed than in the material production of printed text. Yet the processes of typographic design and technology have remained at the periphery of critical scholarship in social history, as well as in general narratives of media and communications. This talk will call into question their marginal location by examining how not only the materiality of text but also the related technological change at large was negotiated precisely through the processes of design. Focusing on the introduction of mechanical typecasting and typesetting in the Indian subcontinent, it will examine how technological contentions and typographic negotiations permeated political, commercial, and creative networks, leading to the prioritisation of specific languages and scripts in a multilingual environment. The talk will aim to elicit the nuances of power struggles inherent in typographic and technological change.

Wednesday 10 October: Joe Moshenska, Associate Professor, Faculty of English, University of Oxford on 'Converted Objects: Iconoclasm as Child’s Play in the Reformation'

Lecture Theatre 1, Darwin Building, RCA Kensington

During the Reformation, holy things that were taken from churches and monasteries were, on occasion, not smashed or burned but instead given to children as toys. This talk will ask how we should interpret this practice of iconoclastic child’s play: what was the status of the object that lingered in the reformed household as a plaything? What was the nature of the conversion that it underwent when it was played with? What can this practice tell us about attitudes to objects, to children, and to their play, in the early modern period and today? Iconoclasm has tended to feature prominently in narratives of modernity as a process of disenchantment, understood as the cultural diminution of playfulness: this talk asks how these narratives might have to change once we recognise that iconoclasm and child’s play were periodically one and the same.

Wednesday 17 October: Sarah Cheang, Senior Tutor, History of Design, Royal College of Art on 'Sinophilia: Fashion, Modernity and Things Chinese'

Lecture Theatre 1, Darwin Building, RCA Kensington

Sinophilia — a love of Chinese things — was a significant part of fashionable identities in the early to mid-twentieth-century Britain in a range of highly embodied and emotionally contradictory experiences of modernity. Women have historically been key figures in domestic yet highly cosmopolitan patterns of behaviour that challenge dominant notions of cultural difference with their fascination and fusion with the exotic. This paper considers twentieth-century chinoiserie in Britain from art to interior design to pet keeping, and reflects on what it means to place the transnational, the feminine and the fashionable centre stage in an analysis of modern subjectivities and fashion histories.

Wednesday 7 November: Veronica Isaac, Lecturer, New York University London & University of Brighton on '"A Thing of Shreds and Patches": Shining a Spotlight on the Memories Preserved in historic Theatre Costumes'

Lecture Theatre 1, Darwin Building, RCA Kensington

This talk will draw attention to the significant contribution direct engagement with the material culture of historic theatre costume can make to the existing discourse surrounding costume and performance. Uniting approaches from dress history, theatre history and material culture, it will offer a specific methodology for the investigation and analysis of surviving theatre costume. As will be demonstrated, constructing the ‘biography’ of a theatre costume offers a means through which to explore the multiple ‘identities’ these garments can accumulate during a life cycle which often includes not only damage, repair and alteration, but potentially ‘translation’ to different performers and productions. The close analysis of surviving costumes will also establish the important role these garments play as ‘carriers of memory’ and their ability to take on the role of ‘effigies’, working to ‘re-member’ lost performances and performers.

Wednesday 14 November: Sara Dominici, School of Humanities, University of Westminster on 'A Cultural History of Combined Technologies: Photographing and Cycling in Late Victorian Britain

Gorvy Lecture Theatre, Dyson Building, RCA Battersea

This talk presents new research looking at the relation between camera and cycle technologies in late Victorian Britain. Despite the challenges of carrying heavy and fragile glass-plate cameras on likewise heavy and laborious to ride machines, in this period combining cycling and photography was felt so close that contemporary commentators could write of ‘cyclo-photographers’. A reason for this popularity was the confluence of new ways of moving and seeing that the engagement with these two modern cultural technologies had made possible, and that photographers embraced as a condition of being modern. This influenced profoundly the development of camera technology and its uses from the late nineteenth century. As the talk shows, this was because cycling enabled a new experience of visualisation as an individual expression that, in turn, shaped how cyclo-photographers thought of camera practices and what they expected of camera technology.

Wednesday 21 November: Nick Humphrey, Curator, Furniture, Textiles and Fashion Dept., Victoria & Albert Museum on 'Layers of Meaning: Mapping a 17th-century Cabinet from the Viceroyalty of Peru'

Lecture Theatre 2, Darwin Building, RCA Kensington

In 2015 the Victoria and Albert Museum acquired the first example in a UK museum of a 17th-century‘ lacquer’ cabinet made in the Viceroyalty of Peru. This extraordinary technique — called barniz de Pasto — originated before the arrival of the Spanish and was developed on a range of indigenous and European artefacts. Barniz de Pasto employed a hybrid decorative style that combines European, Andean and Asian elements — creating some of the first products of global trade. At the V&A collaboration among curators, conservators and scientists led to a range of technical analyses and treatments on the cabinet, innovatively funded. The findings — some shocking — add substantially to the emerging literature on this distinctive but little-known colonial design story.

Wednesday 28 November: Dr Katherine M. Graham and Dr Simon Avery, Queer London Research Forum, University of Westminster on 'Theorising Queer Space and Time: Rewriting Historical Perspectives'

Lecture Theatre 1, Darwin Building, RCA Kensington

Since the 1990s readings of history and historiography have been repeatedly challenged and interrogated by developments in queer theory. At a material level, this has allowed us to uncover unconventional and potentially subversive histories of sexual subjects, while at a theoretical level it has allowed us to examine how these histories may be constructed and written. In many ways, queer theory has offered the most innovative rethinking of historical practice over the last two decades.

In this talk, we will examine a number of material histories of London and interrogate how these histories might be theorised through a queer consideration of space and time. Focusing in particular on the spaces of Vauxhall and Soho, literary representation of queer pubs, and the haunting figure of Oscar Wilde, we will explore the possibilities and limitations of queer history from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

Research Seminars 2017/18

Spring 2018

11 January: Elizabeth Kramer, Northumbria University Department of Arts, Sukajan on 'A transcultural site for commemoration, rebellion and commercialisation'    

This paper presents new research looking at the relationship between embroidery and subculture.  It will outline the transcultural journey of the sukajan, or souvenir jacket, from its roots as a commemorative garment embroidered in Japan for US servicemen commemorating their service in Japan or later the Korean and Vietnam Wars; to its association with Japanese and Western subcultures as a symbol of defiance; to a mass-produced fashionable garment today.

18 January: Simon Werrett,UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies on 'Thrifty Science: Making the most of material things'

This session explores the nature of 'Thrifty Science', my term for a distinctive approach to material culture which, I argue, was critical to the emergence of experimental science in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Early modern books of domestic 'oeconomy' encouraged people to value their material possessions as open-ended things with multiple uses, to be maintained, repaired, transformed and passed down over several generations. Things and people were understood to be intimately connected, a 'sociomaterial' sensibility. Diversifying uses or “making use” in the household provided a constitutive context for experimentation by householders, both men and women, and elements of these experiments were cast as the “new science” of the seventeenth century. I contrast this culture with an “economic” approach to materials that has become widespread in modern times, involving a quite different view of use, re-use, and adaptability. Restoring a sense of “thrifty science” may help to resolve problems of sustainability in both design and in the sciences that such an “economic” approach has given rise to.

25 January: Jen Harvie, Queen Mary UL School of English and Drama on 'Designing Resistance to Adversarial Ageism in Caryl Churchill’s "Escaped Alone and Split Britches" Ruff'

Queer feminist scholar Elizabeth Freeman defines chrononormatives as ‘manipulations of time [that] convert historically specific regimes of asymmetrical power into seemingly ordinary bodily tempos and routines’. This paper argues that emerging and culturally damaging ‘chrononormatives’ of ‘generational warfare’ and ‘ageing crisis’ are importantly addressed by Split Britches’s Ruff (2012) and Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone (2016), performance works entirely populated with women performer/characters aged around 70. Ruff and Escaped Alone stage intergenerational relations, old age, history, and time as more complex, dynamic, and non-linear than the chrononormative binary categorisation that ‘generation war’ relies on. I explore how this is manifested both textually and materially, in the shows’ bodies, designs, furniture, and temporal dramaturgies.

1 February: Sean Nixon, University of Essex Department of Sociology on 'From Decoy Screen to Bird hide: Design, Socio-technical Devices and an Observational Culture of Nature'

In his account of the pioneering design of ‘the scrape’, the artificial saline lagoons at the RSPB’s Minsmere bird reserve, Bert Axell described ‘the scrape’ as being ‘like Wembley stadium’ in the way it brought birdwatchers close to the drama of wild birds as they viewed from hides around the circular lagoons. The paper explores the post-war history of nature reserve management and design through the pioneering work of figures like Axell. It looks at the way bird reserves like Minsmere reworked the technology of bird decoy screens used by wildfowlers into bird hides designed to bring people closer to wild birds. Hides and the creation of semi-natural habitats, together with interpretative signage and nature trails, created not just ‘instructive landscapes’, but were part of a wider post-war observational culture of nature. This shaped a new attention to wild birds that included practices of looking and recording that forged distinctive bird-human relations. These were increasingly ethically distinct from the configuring of wild bird-human relations within associated cultures of nature like wildfowling. The paper deploys Michel Callon’s idea of socio-technical devices developed in relation to markets to understand the designing of nature reserves and their technologies of observation as devices that structure particular kinds of human agency in relation to non-human nature. It is the combination of the footpaths and the observation hides with the optical technologies like binocular that supports and formats new ways of looking at wild birds.

15 February: Barbara Penner, Bartlett School of Architecture, Faculty of the Built Environment on 'The Flexible Heart of the Home: Rehabilitating Homemakers in postwar America'

This paper explores postwar American efforts to rehabilitate disabled homemakers. It does so by exploring two projects in particular: the Heart Kitchen (1949); and Homemaking for the Handicapped (1955-60). Both were multidisciplinary research programmes, involving large teams of medics, occupational therapists and designers, and were substantially shaped by the philosophy of industrial engineer, Lillian Gilbreth, and university-based home economists.

Instead of adhering to the modernist fiction that there could be a singular universal user – implicitly male, young, able-bodied –, the designs associated with homemaker rehabilitation had female bodies of all abilities and ages at its heart. These were very explicitly productive female bodies as these projects very much linked to questions of female domestic labour and the desire to prevent its “waste” in Gilbreth’s words. While those concerned with accommodating disabled homemakers did not set out to radically challenge normative ideas about domesticity, they were deeply invested in revaluing domestic work and in adapting domestic space and routines in ways that had some radical effects, laying the foundation for the inclusive design and independent living movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

1 March: Sofie Narbed, Royal Holloway Department of Geography on 'Corporeal resonances: making contemporary dance in Quito, Ecuador' 

*PLEASE NOTE This seminar has been postponed to 15 March*

This talk explores the creative training and performance of dancing bodies in Ecuador's capital city. Focusing on work from the city's contemporary independent scene, the talk considers the diverse dance(d) heritages that resonate in dancers' bodies and how, in their creative negotiation, dance becomes a mode for engaging, questioning and remaking particular dance histories and presents. Approaching dancing bodies as both lived archive and ongoing site of possibility, the talk also looks to how these creative moves produce subjectivities and contemporaneities that form part of a broader decolonial politics. 

8 March

Lucie Ryzova, University of Birmingham,  Department of History on 'Camera Time: Popular photography in Egypt in the era of high modernity'

This talk examines popular photography in late colonial Egypt, including both commercial studio portraiture and candid photography taken in homes. The encounter between a person and a camera in the era of high modernity represented a form of modern magic, where anyone could momentarily transform the self into another. These reflexive moments of cultural performance speak of the specific kinds of expectations and aspirations young middle class Egyptians held for themselves at this crucial historical juncture. Photographic practices allowed them to articulate the shape and content of modern selfhood, as well as to experiment with its boundaries. 

Autumn 2017

All seminars start at 5.15pm and take place in Seminar Room 5, Level 3 Learning Centre, Victoria & Albert Museum

Thursday 12 October: James Ryan on 'Placing Early Photography: The Work of Robert Hunt in Mid-Nineteenth Century Britain'
Chair: Sarah Teasley

Thursday 19 October: Aoife Monks on
'Collecting Virtuosity: Craft and Performance'
Chair: Simon Sladen

Thursday 26 October: Ludovic Coupaye on 'Making Connections Visible: Methodological Experiments with the ‘Chaîne Opératoire’
Chair: Sarah Teasley

Thursday 09 November: *Event Cancelled* Pete James on 'THRESHOLDS: Serendipity, Photo-History and Augmented Virtuality'
Chair: James Ryan

Thursday 16 November: Henriette Steiner on 'Nature Created?'
Chair: Josie Kane

Thursday 23 November: Marta Ajmar on 'From Unmaking to Remaking: Embodied Ways of Knowing in the Museum'
Chair: Simona Valeriani

Research Seminars 2016/17

Spring Term 2016/17

Thursday 19 January: Zeina Maasri, University of Brighton, on
'Decolonising Modernism: Graphic Design in the Trenches of Arab Hanoi'
This paper shifts the discussion of Cold War modernism to the perspective of Third Worldist anti-imperialist politics during the long 1960s. In this globally expansive revolutionary geography, Beirut – dubbed ‘the Arab Hanoi’ – emerged as a nodal site in and through which an aesthetic of solidarity converged and circulated along transnational circuits of visuality.

Thursday 26 January: Dr Annebella Pollen, University of Brighton, on 'From Scouts to Superhumans: Woodcraft Experiments in Living, 1916–1950'
Oppositional outdoor 'woodcraft' groups, established during and after the First World War, sought to align the growing popularity of camping, hiking and handicraft with an eclectic range of experimental philosophies, from back-to-nature life reform to new thinking in psychology and avant-garde art. The purpose of these groups was never merely leisure; the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, the Woodcraft Folk and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry each saw themselves as cultural revolutionaries bent on designing radical new ways of life for the new world to come.

Thursday 2 February: Professor Emma Tarlo, Goldsmiths, University of London, on 'Hidden Histories of Human Hair in the Global Market'
This talk explores the discrete yet central role played by China in collecting, preparing and transforming human hair for the billion-dollar global market in wigs and extensions. It traces how China has long been playing a largely invisible role in upholding cosmopolitan hair fashions and questions the reasons for this invisibility. Entering the hidden world of Chinese factories, it demonstrates how different ethnic categories of hair are produced and marketed to cater to world tastes.

Thursday 9 February: Professor Rebecca Earle, University of Warwick, on 'Promoting Potatoes in Eighteenth-Century Europe'
Eating acquired an unprecedented political resonance during the eighteenth century. The frenetic promotion of the potato as an Enlightenment super-food during the eighteenth century reveals the emergence of new models of political economy and governance, which stressed the importance of a healthy, well-nourished population to the strength and wealth of the state. Using the potato, this paper explores the central role that ordinary eating practices came to play in Enlightened models of statecraft.

Thursday 16 February: Dr Elaine Tierney, Victoria and Albert Museum, on 'Producing the City: Festival Design and "Middlemen" in London and Paris, 1660–1715'
This paper explores the critical role played by ‘middlemen’ in designing and making urban celebrations. It uses two case studies, the Office of Ordnance’s involvement in major fireworks displays in London, and the intermediary role of the maître d’oeuvres (master of works) in Paris, to show how events depended on organisers with wide-reaching social and professional networks. These ‘middlemen’, with their broad-based expertise, across design, making and project management, are at the heart of my redefinition of the relationship between celebrations and urban environments. Notably, their efforts demonstrate that festival ‘designers’ had expertise that went well beyond personnel with ‘creative’ credentials (e.g. poets, painters, sculptors, musicians), the focus of most previous studies of early modern festivals.

Thursday 23 February: Dr Eray Çaylı, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL & European Institute, LSE, on 'Democracy Under Construction: Design, Time and Imaginations of Publicness in Contemporary Turkey'
Discussing examples of architectural activism as well as mainstream practice, this lecture traces the various ways in which publicness has been negotiated through design in early 2010s Turkey – a historical context marked by a construction-sector-led 'economic boom', state-sponsored projects of 'democratisation', and Occupy-style expressions of political dissent. Against the grain of the tendency in related debates to focus exclusively on space as the medium of publicness, the lecture suggests that unpacking the limitations and potentials of these examples requires a close and nuanced attention to time.

Thursday 2 March: Professor Evelyn Welch, King's College London, on 'Renaissance Skin'
Well into the late eighteenth century, skin was not conceptualised as a barrier; it was understood as a highly porous border. One of the distinctive features that emerges in the late sixteenth century is an increasing anxiety about the vulnerability of the Renaissance body to internal and external threats and the role that clothing and body care played in disease prevention. Key toilette rituals in the morning increased in importance in order to remove the excrements that emerged overnight and to prevent the closure of pores. The role of the barber and barber surgeon was crucial in treating the exterior of the body, applying topical remedies and piercing its surfaces with a range of techniques designed to remove excessive blood or other fluids, including lancing, bleeding, cupping and applying cauteries to the swellings and other signs of disease that emerged on the skin. At the same time, the absorbing power of clean linen was an equally important feature of maintaining health while the display of unbroken skin and the use of masks, prosthetics and patches demonstrated health and disguised the ravages of illnesses such as smallpox. Demonstrating the complexities of approaches, this lecture will show how skin, whether dead or alive, animal or human, provides a focal point for a detailed, deep and broad study of how Renaissance bodies and their boundaries can be understood.

Thursday 9 March: Dr Sorcha O'Brien, Kingston University, on 'Electric Irish Homes: Researching Housewives, Electrical Products and Domesticity in 1950s and 1960s Rural Ireland'
Much of rural Ireland only received access to electrical power after World War Two, as the Electricity Supply Board’s rural electrification project expanded the national grid, allowing many rural households to purchase electrical products for the first time. This work-in-progress seminar will look at the way in which these domestic electrical products were imported, sold and used in 1950s and 1960s Ireland, particularly looking at the use of community-based oral history research as a complement to archival research.

Thursday 16 March: Dr Spike Bucklow, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge & V&A Robert H. Smith Scholar in Residence, delivers the Robert H. Smith Sculpture in Context Seminar, on 'The Church Screen: Colour Schemes and Boundary Marking'
Most colour has been lost from polychrome sculpture. Fragmentary paint remains are suggestive, as is original context. This talk considers the colour schemes of sculptures related to English fifteenth- and sixteenth-century rood screens which lay at the boundary between the nave and chancel and fulfilled a specific architectural function. The talk offers an interpretation of a prevalent colour combination, drawing on the architectural context of paintings, furniture and sculpture

Autum Term 2016/17

Thursday 13 October: Dr Josephine Kane, Royal College of Art on '
Thrill City: Urban Pleasure-Seeking in the Early Twentieth Century'

Drawing on research into early amusement parks in Britain, and a new interdisciplinary project exploring vertigo in the city, this seminar explores the appeal of kinaesthetic pleasures – of giant thrill machines, fast flowing crowds, towering iron and glass structures and spectacular landscapes viewed from above – which attracted people from all walks of life in vast numbers at the turn of the twentieth century. The popularity of these purpose-built pleasurescapes suggests that the commodification of vertigo has played a key role in defining urban pleasure and highlights a theme which has been largely neglected in cultural and architectural histories of the modern city.

Thursday 20 October: Dr Jennifer Altehenger, King's College London on 'Maoist Things: The Search for Socialist Industrial Design in Communist China'
Drawing on research into early amusement parks in Britain, and a new interdisciplinary project exploring vertigo in the city, this seminar explores the appeal of kinaesthetic pleasures – of giant thrill machines, fast flowing crowds, towering iron and glass structures and spectacular landscapes viewed from above – which attracted people from all walks of life in vast numbers at the turn of the twentieth century. The popularity of these purpose-built pleasurescapes suggests that the commodification of vertigo has played a key role in defining urban pleasure and highlights a theme which has been largely neglected in cultural and architectural histories of the modern city.

Thursday 27 October: Dr Tim Ainsworth Anstey, Oslo School of Architecture and Design on 'Things That Move. Essays in Architectural History'
Obelisks and omnibuses; Materials and media; Planets and publications; Trams and tympana Architecture and its history (from Vitruvius to Venturi) have been dominated by how things move. Part of a larger research project, this lecture presents two cases from a collection of essays which seek to explore architectural history through the guiding principle of writing about what moves as opposed to what doesn't.

Thursday 10 November: Professor David Crowley, Royal College of Art on 'The Choreography of the Console. The Design of Electronic Environments and their Operators in the Cold War'
Advances in computing, cybernetics and electronics on both sides of the East / West divide in the 1950s and 1960s encouraged the development of new kinds of real and imagined spaces such as the operations room of command and control centres in defence, energy and communication networks; electronic recording and television studios; and, most spectacularly, the decks of spacecraft in science-fiction films. These spaces inferred a new kind of human being – the ‘operator’ interacting with the world indirectly, often via an electronic console. Should these instruments be understood as either an extension of humankind (‘the humanism of control’) or as a step in the progressive marginalization of the human agent?

Thursday 17 November: Professor Bill Sherman, V&A, on 'Method and Madness: Searching for Meaning in the Arensberg Collection'.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Louise and Walter Arensberg filled their Hollywood house with one of the most important private collections of modern and pre-Columbian art in the United States, as well as the world’s largest private library of works by and about Sir Francis Bacon. The collection first took shape in their New York apartment, where they presided over the salon that brought Dada to America, and it expanded rapidly after their move to Los Angeles in 1921. By the time they died in the early '50s, the Arensbergs had acquired some 4,000 books and more than 1,000 works of art — including the bulk of Marcel Duchamp’s oeuvre. The couple saw these disparate materials as part of a single enterprise, one devoted to multiple meanings, secret codes, and intellectual games. The ideas, patterns and preoccupations guiding the acquisition and display of this remarkable collection are all but invisible now, and the art and books have been separated not only from the house but also from each other. What do we learn when we put them back together?

Thursday 24 November: Dr Geoffrey Gowlland, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo on 'Chinese Concrete, Indigenous Slate: Building Materials and Ethnicity in Taiwan'
This seminar takes up recent calls in the social sciences to take materiality (and materials) seriously, in the context of a study on ethnic relations in Taiwan. It will consider how, among the Paiwan indigenous (Austronesian) people, local and imported building materials, and the acquisition of associated skills, shape indigenous identity and subjectivities, and mediate relations of power.

All seminars are free; external attendees are asked to contact [email protected] to reserve a seat.
Talks take place from 2–3.30pm at the RCA's Kensington or Battersea Sites. 

RCA Kensington
Kensington Gore
London SW7 2EU

RCA Battersea
1 Hester Road
London SW11 3AS