'Local, National and Global: Redrawing the Design Historical Map', Journal of Design History, volume 15 (3), 2005.
My interest in notions of the 'local' the 'national' and the 'global' has grown alongside the development and maturing of design history since the mid-1970s when I first became involved in the field. Although the discipline has benefited considerably from an increasingly sophisticated knowledge of the ways in which a variety of methods and disciplinary enquiries are able to enrich and enhance our understanding of the material world, research and publication in the field has been geographically limited by the focus on a comparatively limited number of countries in the industrialised world. As I argued in this output, ‘Local, National and Global: Redrawing the Design Historical Map’, design history has been rather less radical in its abilities to shift global perspectives or the understanding of geographical realities as it lacks the powerful political and economic drivers of exploration. I also maintained that the design historical map of the early twenty-first century is little more developed in terms of geographical content than that known to the explorers of the early sixteenth century, an idea I also explored in a paper on ‘Branding and Mapping: Design History & Colonization’ at the Globalization & Representation international conference at the University of Brighton earlier in 2005.
There have been a number of important initiatives, such as GLAADH (Globalising Art, Architecture and Design History, 2001-2003), which brought together art and design historians at the University of Sussex, the Open University and Middlesex University to enrich the curriculum to include 'the arts of less traditionally studied cultures and communities in, for example, Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas, but also including those within Europe.' It is difficult to assess the extent to which this HEFCE funded programme impacted upon curricula across the country and beyond, but its impact on design historical research appears, at best, to have been muted. Of rather more importance for research possibilities has been a series of symposia held under the auspices of the International Conference of the Design History and Design Studies (ICDHS).
There have been several initiatives in the last decade or so that have challenged some of the geographical territory that design history has conventionally occupied, particularly 'Historiar desde la Periferia: Historia e historias del Diseño/Design History Seen from Abroad: History and Histories of Design', the 1st ICDHDS colloquium in Barcelona in 1999. One of its objectives was to develop design and design historical debates in Spain and the Spanish-speaking world, thereby challenging the orthodoxy of much mainstream design history that had been conducted in English. This followed from a range of design cultural initiatives that had taken place in Barcelona since the early 1990s, including a 1995 round table debate on 'Pautas para una Historia del Diseño en Cataluña', concerned with the establishment of a Catalonian history of design, previously largely 'lost' or invisible to the majority. Of the 47 speakers at the 1999 'Historiar desde la Periferi' event, 80% were from the Spanish-speaking world: 19 speakers were from Barcelona itself, 13 from the rest of Spain, six from Spanish speaking South America and Cuba, and nine from Europe, six of whom were British including myself as a keynote speaker on 'Recent Trends in Design History Research’.
The ICDHDS, the committee for which I became a member, began a series of international conferences that sought to build a more globally representative history of design with a conference in Havana, Cuba (2000), focused on the theme 'The Emergence of Regional Histories' and taking another step in repositioning debate beyond territories traditionally dominated by research and publication activity in Europe and the United States. By the time of the third conference of the series, 'Mind the Map: Design History beyond Borders', held in Istanbul in 2002, the organisers were able to attracted contributions from many countries generally under-represented in design historical and design studies. The organisation of many of these strands reflected this and included Local Chapters for a Global History: Attempts for a Comparative Approach, ‘Design History Narratives: from Local to Global’, ‘Facing the West in the Near, Middle and Far East’, ‘Latin American Design History’ and ‘Craft and Design in Cultural Globalisation’, as well as more methodological concerns embraced by ‘Design History, Design Practice and their Boundaries’. In terms of national design content 27 countries were represented in the 81 papers with geographical specificity. The fourth conference of the series took place in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2004. Its theme centred on the idea of 'Coincidence & Co-incidence', seeking to develop further issues broached in the earlier conferences in the series. Although approaching 'Design History and Boundaries' from what was by then a disciplinary perspective, other concerns such as 'Local, Regional, National Design Histories', 'Global Design History' and 'An Alternative World' were further promoted some of the geographical and developmental concerns broached in Barcelona, Havana and Istanbul. Colonialism, the impact of imported products and industries in developing countries, the role of the traditional crafts in the face of the threat posed by globalization, as well as the potential of new industrialized countries, were all envisaged as important arenas for discussion. As was suggested by the Guadalajara organizers, 'the nature of design history still requires substantial debate which is now being enriched by those matters derived from, local/regional/peripheral interests and concerns'; also that 'the development of design history in those areas hitherto not studied or not widely known, offers new items for the agenda of unresolved issues'.
The ICDHS conference cycle has continued since then with the 2006 conference held at the University of Art and Design Helsinki and the Estonian Academy of the Arts, entitled 'Connecting: a conference on the multivocality of design history and design studies', seeking to connect in particular the work of the Nordic Forum to a more global perspective. The 2008 conference will be held in Osaka at the Center for the Study of Communication-Design of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science on the theme, 'Another Name for Design: Words for Creation'. I will be involved with the organization of, and presenting in, the 'Decolonizing Design History: Modern/Postmodern for the Periphery' strand. There have been a number of propositions relating to the difficulties of constructing a world history of design, a venture that has been taken on by Victor Margolin, although I believe that an effective way forward would be to enlist the help of professional design organisations, such as ICOGRADA (International Council of Societies of Graphic Design Organisations), ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) and IFI (International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers) - with large memberships in all continents and a large number of countries and an impact on millions of designers throughout the world - to begin to redraw the design historical world map. Although parts of Europe, the whole of the West of South America and parts of South-East Asia are missing, the ICOGRADA world map (illustration 2) perhaps hints at a positive way forward for a more inclusive design history. The archives of ICOGRADA and ICSID have been deposited in the Design Archives at Brighton in 2003 and 2007 respectively, which provides me with a useful starting point, although I have recently been involved in the promotion of more 'hidden' rather than 'lost' histories through the organisation of conferences that have accompanied exhibitions received their British premieres at the University. These include Czech Design Symposia on Challenge and Change: Czech Decorative Arts and Glass in the 20th and 21st Centuries(2006), Czech Design, Culture and Society: Changing Climates (2005) and Contemporary Artists’ Responses to Japanese Traditions (2007).