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The 8th William A. Kern Conference on Visual Communication - Design, Sound and Vision in Midcentury Media

April 26-28, 2018

The 2018 Kern conference explored the topic of “midcentury media.” The traditional focus of the Kern conference is visual communication, and this year’s aimed to reveal how the visual intersects with broader dimensions of media, such as design, literature, and music. Further, we did some ‘looking backward’ to historicize visual culture by focusing on the midcentury period, roughly between the 1940s and the 1960s. The conference included papers on topics of how media technologies were introduced, visualized and promoted; how design, photography, print, and other visual technologies created glamourous imagery, often of midcentury media objects themselves; how the midcentury literary and popular imagination elicited and relied upon visual displays and representations; and how Cold War anxieties, ideal lifestyles, and optimism for the future impacted midcentury media. We aspired to promote efforts to think about design and modernism within a larger frame of visual culture.

Goals of the conference included:

  • Re-imagine and reassess midcentury media
  • Explore the continuing significance of midcentury aesthetic production and material culture, including graphic design, vinyl records, radio, television, film, popular media, and ephemera
  • Interrogate identity – race, class, gender – and ideology
  • Integrate approaches to communication, design, history, media studies, and visual culture

Invited speakers included:

  • Greg Barnhisel, Department of English, Duquesne University
  • Michael Brown, Department of History, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • John Covach, Institute for Popular Music, University of Rochester
  • Kristin L. Matthews, Department of English, Brigham Young University
  • Tom Perchard, Department of Music, Goldsmiths, University of London
  • R. Roger Remington, College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Monica Penick, School of Design and Creative Technologies, College of Fine Arts, University of Texas at Austin
  • Penny M. Von Eschen, Department of History, Cornell University

Following in the tradition of Kern conferences, we enjoyed a rich program of interdisciplinary scholarship and conversation.

Conference Chairs: Jonathan E. Schroeder, William A. Kern Professor of Communications, Rochester Institute of Technology and Janet Borgerson, City, University of London