Past Conferences

Kern Conference on Visual Communication was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to Covid-19.

The 2018 Kern conference focused on the topic of “midcentury media.” The traditional focus of the Kern conference is visual communication, and this year’s revealed 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 featured 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 aspired to promote efforts to think about design and modernism within a larger frame of visual culture. The goals of the conference included 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.

The 2018 conference included over 20 research papers and invited speakers, with researchers from many private and public universities from across the US and beyond presenting their work on midcentury media. Conference registration exceeded 60 people, including RIT staff, undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni representing 18 institute departments. A highlight of the conference included a visit to the photography archives at the George Eastman Museum, where the archive director met with us to discuss specially selected material from the museum’s rich collection.

The 2016 Kern conference focused on the spectacle of the "selfie." Key issues that drive this inquiry include: 1) intense interest in social media, co-creation, and participatory consumer culture, 2) a desire to historically contextualize the selfie within art history, identity theory, and photography, 3) positioning the selfie as a distinctive self-performative act, and 4) conceptual and methodological foundations for studying the selfie as a visual communication phenomenon. Goals include exploring current developments, research methods and interdisciplinary research into how social media, self-portraiture and the selfie interact. One particular theme is to develop a series of historical and contemporary examples to trace a visual genealogy of the selfie, following interpretive and historical work in consumer culture theory, photography, and visual culture.

Within strategic communication, the selfie has been deployed to promote brands as authentic, to invoke the “average consumer” as a credible product endorser, and to show how brands might fit in with regular consumer’s lifestyles. Many questions remain. How do consumers use selfies to construct and present themselves in social media? When do certain selfies go viral? What methods are useful to study selfies? How do issues of privacy, security, and surveillance inform the use of the selfie?

Several papers that were presented at the conference was published in the European Journal of Marketing in 2016:

Communicating identity – hero, villain, native, immigrant, minority, celebrity, terrorist – often leads to controversy and conflict. These identities are frequently represented with implicit comparative differences, such as friend vs. foe or familiar vs. strange. This conference seeks to explore how identities are presented and performed in consumer culture, and why it matters. What are the connections between communication, consumption and ‘difference’? …and between audiences, citizens, viewers, and consumers? What can we say about the production and consumption of images of identity? What can theory from post-colonial, post-gender, post-race, and post-class perspectives contribute? How do representations of identity in cultural discourses including advertising, art, branding, fashion, film, journalism, photography, social media, and web design intersect with consumption? How can consumer culture theory strengthen our understanding of visual communication?.

A special issue based on the conference was published in Consumption Markets & Culture in 2015,

Recently, the Carnegie Foundation published, Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Professions (2011), a book that makes a new case for integrating liberal education with business studies. So, business schools seem interested in liberal arts; but, what role do liberal arts play in a career focused education? How does a liberal education prepare graduates, many of whom end up working in business? How does research in the liberal arts intersect with the concerns of business disciplines? What is the role of the liberal arts at RIT?

These issues at the intersections of business and the liberal arts are on the minds of many of us. At the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences in Fall 2011, international researchers and educators met for a conference rganized by the highly respected Copenhagen Business School. The conference, “Integrating the Humanities and Liberal Arts in Business Education”, discussed successful integration of humanities-based skills and concepts into business school curricula, and further presented the benefits of bringing business discipline-based insights into the humanities.

At the 2012 Academy of Management Conference in Boston, over one hundred Academy members met to discuss ways in which skills from the liberal arts can enhance the potential of business school graduates, expand their capacity to approach and understand problems, think critically, and communicate with others. Further, scholarly research at the intersections of philosophy and business demonstrates the importance and necessity of integrating theories, concepts, and examples across disciplinary boundaries.

This symposium explores the connections between the liberal arts and business disciplines. The goals of the symposium include 1) facilitating an exchange of ideas, 2) sharing best practices, and 3) articulating the role of RIT’s College of Liberal Arts in education and research related to business. The symposium is open to the entire community, and is supported William A. Kern Endowment in Communications.

A brief story from the RIT Atheneum is here:

One purpose of this conference is to discuss recent controversies in visual communication, including photojournalism, social media, advertising, and the visual arts, invoking issues of privacy, security, censorship, freedom of expression, and religious belief. In addition, as concerns over the power of images are not new, we would seek to historicize and contextualize current debates with historical perspectives, including, as an illustrative example, iconoclasm and the Protestant reformation in Europe – particularly Puritan image smashing in England during the 16th and 17th centuries. Following in the tradition of Kern conferences, we plan a rich program of interdisciplinary scholarship and conversation. We have planned a varied program of events, including a visit to the George Eastman House International Museum of Film and Photography, sessions on topics ranging from images in the British Civil Wars, War Photography, Security, Journalism, and Advertising, and a tribute to Diane Hope, former Kern professor, and founder of the Kern Conference in Visual Communication.

A special issue of Visual Communication Quarterly was published in 2014 based on the conference:

The 2008 Kern conference was the biggest and most diverse yet, as reflected in the following statistics: Conference participants represented four countries, Austria, Canada, Slovakia and the United States. A total of 96 participants presented papers or chaired scholarly panels. Scholars from 50 different private and public universities in twenty-five states presented their work in a wide variety of research related to visual communication.

The Keynote speaker, Thomas W. Benson, presented a talk, “Look! Rhetoric! Political Posters, Berkeley, California, May 1970”

Plenary events included presentations by Paul Martin Leste; Roger Remington; and Ron Osgood who also presented a full screening of his documentary film, My Vietnam Your Iraq.
A Master Panel, "Blogging Visual Politics," organized and chaired by Cara Finnegan, featured visual rhetoric scholar/bloggers, and explored the blog as a compelling public forum for visual engagement and political critique. Presenters included John Lucaites and Robert Hariman, Jim Johnson, and Michael Shaw.

A second Master Panel, “Visual Rhetoric: Past Present and Future” organized and chaired by Lester Olson, provided an occasion to reflect on past studies of visual rhetoric with an eye to priority setting for the future of scholarship in the area and featured panelists Carolyn Handa, Charles Hill, Marguerite Helmers, and Kevin M. DeLuca.

The conference banquet ended with after dinner remarks, “The Rhetoric of Jonathan Swift's A TALE OF A TUB” by Provost and Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Stanley D. McKenzie, Rochester Institute of Technology.

An interdisciplinary Kern Communication Symposium, "Counterpublics, Media and Social Change, April 11-12, 2007, featured two days of invited speakers and panelists exploring emergent theories and instances of "counterpublics" in relationship to communication media and social change. Wednesday's presentations focused on Counterpublics, Media and Democracy. Thursday presentations focused on Counterpublics, Media and Environments.

The Keynote Address, "The Revolutionary Public Sphere" was presented by Dana Cloud, University of Texas. Other presenters included Matthew H. Bernius (RIT); Alex Bitterman (RIT); Anne Demo (Syracuse University); Neil Hair (RIT), Christine Harold (University of Georgia); Donna Kowal (SUNY College at Brockport); Mark Meisner (SUNY, ESF); Tarla Rai Peterson (Texas A&M University); Phaedra Pezzullo ( University of Indiana); and Amit Ray ( RIT).

The 3rd bi-annual conference on Visual Communication: Rhetorics and Technology, April 20-23, 2006, was held in the center of Rochester’s cultural district, at the Strathallan Hotel.

The interdisciplinary conference theme focused on resources for visual research and future directions for visual communication and rhetoric.

The Keynote speaker was Dr. Nancy Mowll Mathews, the Eugenie Prendergast Senior Curator of 19th and 20th century Art at the Williams College Museum of Art. She recently completed a major book and exhibition, Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film (1890-1910) which explores the interconnections between the new technology of film and the visual arts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Dr. Mathews is the author of a number of books on Mary Cassatt, Maurice and Charles Prendergast, and the critically acclaimed book, Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life (2001).

Plenary Master Session I: Visual Communication And The Creative Mind: Theory And Practice featured presentations by Ann Marie Barry, Boston College; Julianne Newton, University Of Oregon; Rick Williams, Lane Community College, Oregon; Susan B. Barnes, Rochester Institute Of Technology; Patti Ambrogi, Rochester Institute Of Technology; and Holland Wilde, University of Calgary.

Plenary Master Session II: Future Directions In Visual Rhetoric: Cases and Challenges featured papers by Janis L. Edwards, Alabama University; James J. Kimble, Seton Hall University and Lester C. Olson, University of Pittsburgh; Cara Finnegan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Robert Hariman, Northwestern University and John Lucaites, Indiana University; and Diane S. Hope, Rochester Institute of Technology.

A William A. Kern Communications Conference In Cooperation with Women's Studies Quarterly and The Feminist Press
This conference was the last of the three Kern conference presented in conjunction with Women’s Studies Quarterly and The Feminist Press. The conference explored feminist discourse as a source and a focus of significant disciplinary and interdisciplinary change in the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences and technology. Investigations of the gendered production of knowledge and the complex constructs of social, economic and political power have impacted curricula, theory and research. Individual and community relationships to our physical bodies and to the material and natural environments have been recast. Practices throughout the academy reflect and acknowledge the central place of gender in teaching and learning and in student life. Yet feminism is lively with challenge and contested in multiple ways from within and without communities of higher education.

Opening remarks, “Feminist Rebirth, Revisited,” by Diane S. Hope was followed by Session I, Feminist Practices in Arts and History” with panels of scholars on Women in the Arts, Women as History. Session II, “ Theory and Challenges in Science and Society” featured panels on Feminist Theory in Technology and Science, and Challenges: Social Norms and Social Change in the Academy.

Andrew Moore, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, RIT, spoke briefly on “Women’s Studies and the College of Liberal Arts.”

Keynote speaker, Mari Boor Tonn, University of Maryland presented an address titled, “Fighting Feminism: Exploring Triumphs and Obstacles in Feminist Politics and Scholarship.” Dr. Tonn’s address was published subsequently in the Fall (2004) issue of Women’s Studies in Communication( Vol. 27, Issue 3).

Session III Feminism, Communication and Learning, followed with panels on Feminist Practices: Public Policy, Evaluation and Publishing, and Challenges: Teaching Women’s Studies.

The conference ended on Saturday November 8, with a group tour of the Women’s National Hall of Fame at Seneca Falls, NY.

Visual Communication: Rhetoric and Technology April 3-April 6, 2003, featured a Friday Keynote Address: “Envisioning Science: A Science Photographer's Perspective" by Felice Frankel, Research Scientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by a Master Panel, “Siggraph Group Round Table: Neuroscience, Visual Cognition and Communication” with Ann Marie Barry, Boston College, Rick Williams, Lane Community College, Oregon, and Julie Newton, University of Oregon.

Saturday’s Keynote address, “Ritualizing Modernity’s Gamble: Representing Disaster in the Iconic Photograph of the Explosion of the Challenger,” was presented by John Louis Lucaites, Indiana University and Robert Hariman, Northwestern University. Saturday’s Master panel, “Rhetoric, Visual Culture, and Politics: Exploring Key Terms in the Study of Visual Rhetoric” featured papers by Cara Finnegan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Anne Demo, Syracuse University and Lester Olson, University of Pittsburg and a response by Kevin M. DeLuca, University of Georgia.

A William A. Kern Conference in cooperation with Women’s Studies Quarterly, The Feminist Press and The RIT Women’s Center.

The conference explored women's work in the information and communication media sectors. The all day "Movie History of Women and Work: From Fact to Fiction," featured documentaries, (Rosie the Riveter, 2001; Valley of the Boys, 2000; Working Women of the World, 2000) and feature films (Desk Set, 1957; Nine to Five; 1980; Bread and Roses, 2001) that focused on issues of women at work.

Three spotlight presentations included a keynote talk by Dr. Nina Gregg," Women and Work in the Age of Information: Progress, Setbacks and Opportunities," a talk by Marianne Siemietkowski Needham, "The Cisco Learning Institute Gender Initiative," and a luncheon talk by Mary-Francis Winters, "Only Wet Babies Like Change.”

Three panels of scholars explored (1) Women in the IT Pipeline, (2) Professional Perspectives and (3) Women and the Digital Divide: Who Benefits in the Information Age."

Session I of Media, Technology and Gender: Emerging and Enduring Issues featured an all day film screening of film and video exploring issues of media and gender. Films included Jean Kilbourne’s, Killing Us Softly III; Tough Guize: Men, Media and Masculinity; Dreamworlds 2; December 31, 2001; Grrlyshow; Off the Straight and Narrow; Writing Desire; Beyond Killing us Softly; The Righteous Babes; and Game Over.

Session II featured Keynote Speakers, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, authors of the best selling ‘Third Wave” book, Manifesta.

Session III featured a student panel: Jessica Mills, Jessica Miller, Diana Cho, Julie Stewart, Khury Peterson-Smith and a conversation with Baumgardner and Richards.

Session IV was comprised of two panels of scholars exploring Media technologies and gender, including Lee Quinby, Betty Bayer and b.h. Yael on Women, Feminism and Media Technology, and Walter John Carl III, Michael J. Mazanec, and David R. Neumann, presenting papers on Media, Technology and Organizational Communication: Representations of Masculinity.

The conference ended with high tea and a tour of the Susan B. Anthony House.

Visual Communications: Rhetoric and Technologies 2001 conference was comprised of an eclectic group of individuals from all around the world. Beginning on Thursday and ending on Sunday, the participants enjoyed the exhibition, R.I.T.'s Metro Showcase for Contemporary Art displayed by R.I.T. faculty, in Gallery R, tours to Highland Park, the Strathallan Hotel, the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, and to R.I.T. campus.

Keynote speakers were Elayne Rapping, a media critic and a professor of Women's Studies and Cultural Studies at the SUNY College at Buffalo, Rick Williams, a photographer and an educator in the sector of both photojournalism and visual communication , David Wooters, the photo archivist of the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, and Kevin Michael DeLuca from the Department of Speech Communication of the University of Georgia. A number of panels focusing on the concept of visual communication occurred throughout the four days. The highlight of the conference was a Saturday night banquet with an after dinner speech by Dr. Stan Mckenzie, provost of R.I.T.