On Saturday 24 June 2006, the Postgraduate Design History Society hosted a one day symposium of their recent and current research at the School of Historical and Critical Studies. The day comprised eight papers from PDHS members divided into themed sessions.
Following an opening address by Professor Lou Taylor, the first session, entitled “Materialising Ethnicity”, featured papers by MA students Elliot Weiss and Torunn Kjolberg. Elliot’s paper “Beyond the Control Tower: Spectres of Zionism in Israeli Airport Architecture” was a fascinating and sophisticated analysis of the ideological architectural tropes deployed in the new Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel which revealed what Elliot called the architechniques of ruling state control. Like Elliot, Torunn’s paper represented research undertaken for her MA thesis. Entitled “From Silent Knowledge to Articulated Authenticity: How South-Sami Ethnic Identities have Demonstrated Resilience in Post-War Norway”, Torunn’s paper investigated the state-assisted reconstruction of South-Sami ethnic identity at a time when the traditional identity-markers of reindeer herding and Sami language have diminished. Torunn showed through her original interviews and visual documentation how aesthetic practices and symbols have become key strategies for the articulation of authentic first nationhood.
“Bauhaus or Burslem: Design Education and the Royal College of Art in the 1920s and 1930s” was the title of Marie McLoughlin’s paper which opened the “Design and Industry” session. Marie’s infectious enthusiasm and in-depth knowledge of the development of English art and design pedagogy between the wars animated her investigation of the establishment of the Burslem School of Art. Fellow PhD candidate Yunah Lee’s engaging paper “Selling Modern Britain: British Weeks in the 1960s” examined the complex dialectic of modernity and tradition presented in the Board of Trade’s international promotional displays of national identity. Yunah revealed how, despite the best intentions of the organisers, the mixture of cultural events and trade exhibitions which made up the British Weeks resulted in a retrenchment of British stereotypes, and ultimately failed in their task.
In “Collars and Couture”, two MA students presented dress-historical research. Jane Hattrick opened the session with a beautifully illustrated paper on “Norman Hartnell, the Actress and the Fashion System in the 1930s” which demonstrated Jane’s enduring research interests in the connections between couture and the stage, and revealed the profitable links connecting British theatre to American ready-to-wear. Julia Petrov closed the session with “Collared: Celluloid, Masculinity and Class”. This paper impressively linked Victorian literature with a technological history of plastics to offer a subtle reading of the material culture of men’s dress codes.
The final session, “Archives of the Everyday”, included MA student Annebella Pollen’s Mass-Observation research entitled “Purchasing Power: Rationality, Thrift and Protest in the Shopping Practices of Older Women”. This paper illustrated how theories of ‘gendered’ and ‘aged’ consumption function in practice and argued for a reconsideration of the discriminating skills of this marginalised group. Samm Lanfear-Jones followed with an excerpt from her PhD thesis analysing amateur film from the Screen Archive South East (SASE) at the University of Brighton. Entitled “Designed Histories: Amateur Films as Evidence”, Samm supported her cogent critique of the representational devices of her material with a montage of original footage to bring the day to a close.
This event was generously funded by the School of Historical and Critical Studies, and sessions were chaired by PDHS members Lyanne Holcombe and Marilyn Willis. Delegates attending the symposium included Professor Carol Dyhouse of Sussex University, postgraduate students from Edinburgh, Kingston, Wolverhampton, the RCA and Wimbledon, as well as prospective History of Design postgraduates and alumni. PDHS would like to thank all who participated in making the day such a success.