Material Matters, the third annual conference of the University of Brighton Postgraduate Design History Society (PDHS), took place in the Centre for Research and Development on 6 June 2008. Full to capacity, with delegates from the Courtauld Institute, London College of Fashion, Royal College of Art, the Costume Society, School of African and Oriental Studies, Brighton Museum and the V&A as well as from Kingston, Southampton and Teeside universities, the record number in attendance evidenced the growing reputation of the 30-strong student society.
Material Matters prioritised presentations from members of the group who have not spoken at previous PDHS events, and the ten papers were themed into panels chaired by four founding members of the society – Annebella Pollen, Torunn Kjolberg, Jane Hattrick and Marie McLoughlin. The morning sessions were dedicated to topics dealing with Culture and Identity, and began with a fascinating glimpse at the PhD research of University of Brighton’s Denise Gonyo into Anglo-Indian and South Asian responses to late nineteenth century colonial exhibitions. Daniel Harrison’s presentation utilised dissertation research from his MA in the History of Design and Material Culture, and continued with the theme of cross-cultural exchange through close readings of the design and manufacture of fashionable dress made in India for European consumption from 1880-1914. Moving the chronological period forward, Susan Housewade (PhD candidate, University of Brighton) explored representations of Korea appearing in British popular media in the years 1910-1939 with the help of an extraordinary range of archival imagery.
The morning continued with three other papers exploring national identities in design. The PhD research of Christina Lindholm into fashion and Muslim dress in Qatar formed the basis for a grounded contribution to a sometimes controversial contemporary debate. Cat Rossi (MA History of Design, 2007) followed with her current research for the V&A / RCA on the conflicting modernities at play in mid-century American promotion of Italian craft, and the session was completed by Katy May of the Textile Conservation Centre, University of Southampton, arguing for the Englishness of a unique collection of twentieth century clothing preserved by a Norfolk farming family.
Two further sessions completed the day. In the Novelty and Industry panel, current History of Design MA student Bridget Millmore offered a fascinating and probing look at thread and linen button manufacture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. University of Brighton PhD candidate Anna Kett explored the same period in her examination of attitudes to slavery readable in the Wedgwood Slave Medallion, and kept everyone’s attention despite technical problems. In the Approaches and Methods panel, Amy Clark, University of Brighton alumni, discussed the challenges of fusing material culture methodologies with oral history for her current MA in Life History at Sussex. Chris Warren, PhD candidate, Textile Conservation Centre, University of Southampton impressed the audience with his innovative methods of interpreting large numbers of now-forgotten nineteenth century artists, suggesting strategies that might be applied across design research.
Lively as ever, the 2008 PDHS symposium provided a warm and welcome environment for members to showcase their work, make new friends and associates, and contribute to the university’s existing design history research culture. With thanks to the School of Historical and Critical Studies and the Centre for Research and Development University of Brighton for their support.
30 September 2008