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History of Design Research Seminar Series

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

Details of the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seminar series can be found below. For details of past talks please click here.

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 f.hall@vam.ac.uk to reserve a seat. 

Research Seminars 2017/18

Autumn/Winter 2017/18

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.

HOW TO FIND US

V&A Learning Centre
Seminar Room 5, Level 3 
Victoria and Albert Museum  
(See map)