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Rochester Institute of Technology

College of Liberal Arts

8th William A. Kern Conference in Visual Communication

April 26-28, 2018

Design, Sound and Vision in Midcentury Media

The 2018 Kern conference is focused on the topic of “midcentury media.” The traditional focus of the Kern conference is visual communication, and this year’s aims to reveal how the visual intersects with broader dimensions of media, such as design, literature, and music. Further, we do some ‘looking backward’ to historicize visual culture by focusing on the midcentury period, roughly between the 1940s and the 1960s. The conference features presentations, panels and an archive visit 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 aspire to promote efforts to think about design and modernism within a larger frame of visual culture. The goals of the conference include re-imagining and reassessing midcentury media; exploring the continuing significance of midcentury aesthetic production and material culture, including graphic design, vinyl records, radio, television, film, popular media, and ephemera; and integrating approaches to communication, design, history, media studies, and visual culture.


Thursday April 26  Strathallan Hotel, Rochester

1:00 –    Registration opens

1:30       Welcome, Introduction, Opening Remarks

Andrea Hickerson, Director, School of Communication, Rochester Institute of Technology

1:40  – 3:10      Opening Session – Speakers

Setting a Context for Mid-Century Modern Design

R. Roger Remington, Rochester Institute of Technology


Hearing, Seeing, Talking, Touching: Pop Music Experiences in the Postwar British Home

Tom Perchard, Goldsmiths, University of London


Revolutionary Design: Print Culture and the New Left

Kristin L. Matthews, Brigham Young University


3:10 – 3:30       Coffee


3:30 – 4:45       Midcentury Sound and Design


Chair, Jim Hall, Rochester Institute of Technology


Design for Hi-Fi Living: The LP as Midcentury Media

Janet Borgerson, City, University of London

Jonathan Schroeder, Rochester Institute of Technology


The “Chromatic Revolution” and The Mid-Century Marketing of the Extension Telephone


Brian Coffey, National Park Service, Atlanta



The Paradoxes of Tennessee Ernie Ford and the Iranian Revolution

Babak Elahi, Rochester Institute of Technology


Dinner on your own. 

Suggestions for dinner plans include the nearby Village Gate Square, which includes several restaurants.


Friday April 27 Strathallan Hotel

Registration continues

8:45 – 9:00       Welcome

9:00 – 10:15     Visual Signals at Midcentury


Chair, Terry Witkowski, California State University, Long Beach


Watching Cosmic Time in Midcentury Suspense Films

Matthew Dwight Moore, Roberts Wesleyan College


The Midcentury Repositioning of Marlboro Cigarettes

TImothy Dewhirst, Guelph University, Canada


Superstudio: Media Techniques and Urban Vision in the Continuous Monument

and Supersurface

Giovanna Potestà, Rochester Institute of Technology


10:15 – 10:30  Break


10:30 – 12:00 Speakers

Style Wars: How Magazines Politicized the Postwar American House

Monica Penick, University of Texas at Austin

A Historian, a Novelist, and the TV Ads of the 1952 Presidential Campaign: Richard Hofstadter as a Public Intellectual Defending Intellectuals against the Public

Michael Brown, Rochester Institute of Technology


12:00 – 1:15     Lunch

1:15 – 2:45       Speakers

Singles, Albums, and the Rise of Rock Ambition of the 1960s

         John Covach, University of Rochester


Mischievous Objects: Cold War Nostalgia and the Afterlives of Mid-Century Design

Penny M. Von Eschen, Cornell University

New Directions Books and Cold War Modernism

Greg Barnhisel, Duquesne University

3:00 –       Walk to George Eastman Museum

3:15 – 5:00       Visit to George Eastman Museum, 900 East Avenue, Rochester

We will walk down East Avenue to visit the George Eastman Museum. Ross Knapper, Collections Manager, Department of Photography, will meet us. Museum and grounds admission is included in conference registration. For more information:

7:00          Conference Dinner – Century Club, Rochester (across the street from the hotel)

         (please register separately for this event for catering purposes)


Saturday April 28 Strathallan Hotel      

9:00 – 10:15     Panel: Curating Midcentury Media

Juilee Decker, Rochester Institute of Technology, Chair

Ella von Holtum, Archivist, Wallace Center, Rochester Institute of Technology

Jessica Johnston, Assistant Director/Curator of Collections, Visual Studies Workshop

Joshua Coon, Director, Content Marketing & Production, Eastman Kodak Company


10:15 – 10:30  Break

10:30 – 11:45  Midcentury Sound and Design II


Chair, Grant Cos, Rochester Institute of Technology


Selling the Fifties with the Forties: The Persistence of the Wurlitzer 1015

Sarah Thompson, Rochester Institute of Technology


Out of the Shadows: Reconsidering the Design of Prestige Records

Mark Havens, Photographer, Author and Educator, Philadelphia

Chris Entwisle, Artist and Illustrator, Philadelphia


Vocality, Sound Design, and the Art of Record Production on the LPs of Miles Davis (1951–58) 

Darren Mueller, University of Rochester


11:45 – 12:30  Midcentury Promotional Films – A Brief Selection

12:30  Concluding Remarks, Discussion of Publishing Opportunities



Conference attendees are invited to Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, a campus-wide event that showcases the innovative and creative spirit of RIT students, faculty and staff. Visitors experience the breadth and depth of RIT through interactive presentations, hands-on demonstrations, exhibitions, and research projects set up throughout campus. Multiple performance stages with live music and entertainment are also a hit with visitors of all ages. Held annually each spring, Imagine RIT is the kickoff to Rochester’s rich festival season.

Imagine RIT takes place from 10am to 5pm, rain or shine on RIT’s campus in Henrietta. It is free and open to the public. Information: