Visual Histories of the United States. Annual Conference of the Historians in the DGFA (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Amerikastudien/German Association for American Studies)

Visual Histories of the United States. Annual Conference of the Historians in the DGFA (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Amerikastudien/German Association for American Studies)

Prof. Dr. Gudrun Löhrer (FU Berlin); Prof. Dr. Volker Depkat (Universität Regensburg); Andre Dechert, M.A. (WWU Münster)
Akademie für Politische Bildung
Vom - Bis
08.02.2013 - 10.02.2013
Dechert, Andre

Images have shaped the course and understanding of U.S. history from its beginnings. Starting with the early visual representations of the British colonies on drawings or maps and the visual narratives of the American Revolution or the multiple visualizations of the Manifest Destiny ideology, to the iconic images of the American family created by TV sitcoms and the unintentional recording of the assassination of John F. Kennedy images have helped to define American cultural systems of meaning. They have organized perspectives through which Americans perceived themselves and the world over time. Finally, images have also been contested sites of social conflict through all periods of American history.

Visual History is currently one of the most rapidly growing and highly innovative fields, attracting attention from a broad variety of disciplines. The field, therefore, is characterized by a rather heterogeneous body of scholarly work not only regarding topics but also method and theory. In the wake of the so-called visual turn, historians are developing new theories and understandings of images as sources for a broad range of historical investigations. Images are no longer considered mere illustrations, subordinate to the textual. Rather, historians have come to understand images as powerful communicative acts and integral parts of discourses, shaping our understanding of past, present and future. New questions have arisen and new approaches have been tested. Thus, as Visual History is a rather young field, the question of how to deal with visual material seems still pertinent.

The goals of the conference are multifarious. It seeks to address the field of Visual History from a transdisciplinary perspective, assessing the state of the art and critically discussing the most recent developments in the field of Visual History. Questions that might be discussed are: What are the gains of taking visual approaches to U.S. history? Which new windows on the past are opened up by them? Which theories of other disciplines offer new conclusions when applied in the fields of U.S. history and Visual History? How do images in different media intersect? How do Visual History approaches live up the demands of analyzing visual media by investigating their diverse and different aesthetic qualities?

We would like to discuss how images were produced and mediated, how they functioned as acts of communication, how they were looked at, perceived and read in the different periods and settings of U.S. history. Thus, the conference seeks to contextualize the visual in the broader cultural spheres of U.S. history. Furthermore, we will not only look at structured formal viewing settings like television or cinema but also thematize visual experience in everyday life. As it has been pointed out in Visual Culture Studies, images do not necessarily need to be perceived in only one context. For example, paintings may not only be noticed in art galleries but also on book jackets or in advertisement boards. Possible topics might include but are not limited to hegemonial and subaltern gazes, the construction of evidence through picturing technologies, or the analysis of images as sites of defining memory and visualizing legitimacy. Furthermore, we invite studies investigating the production, markets, and audiences of images. Finally, contributions dealing with the political, social and economic contexts of images, their functions, their semiotics, semantics or pragmatics are as welcome as papers highlighting processes of iconization, interpicturality and intermediality, as well as effects and reception. We strongly encourage proposals which think of Visual History in original and new ways. Even though we will be dealing with a variety of approaches, topics and media, the conference will cultivate a decidedly historical perspective throughout. Papers may approach the field of Visual History from diverse angles and for different historical periods dealing with a variety of sources ranging from more traditional objects of inquiry such as paintings, postcards, prints, photographs, film, television, or advertising to new visual technologies such as scientific or medical images or surveillance technologies.

Last but not least, the conference will – as usual – include three workshops where doctoral students can present their projects. This part of the conference is not necessarily connected to the conference’s overall theme of Visual History. All topics in the fields of U.S. history may be presented. Therefore, we strongly urge junior researchers to participate in the conference and to seize the opportunity to present in front of renowned scholars in the field of American history.

Abstracts of not more than 500 words and a short 1 page CV should be sent to by September 30, 2012.


Preliminary Conference Program

14:00h Arrival

15.00 – 15.30h Welcome and Introduction: Gudrun Löhrer (Berlin)/ Volker Depkat (Regensburg)/Andre Dechert (Münster)
Visual Histories of the United States: State of the Art

15.30 -17.00h Section I: Organizing Perspectives
This panel will include historical case-studies investigating into how images have ordered and visualized knowledge about the external world in general and the United States in particular. How have images served as political, economic and cultural tools to define, conquer and dominate space. Papers could deal with the history of cartography in the United States, imperialism, the history of slavery, urban renewal, etc.

18.00-19.00h Dinner

19.30 – 21.00h Keynote
Lisa Cartwright: The political and historical iconicity of the American landscape (working title)

09.00 – 10.30h Young Academics Forum – Workshops
Possibility of Poster Presentation

10.30 – 11.00h Coffee Break

11.00 – 12.30h Section II: Constructing Evidence in US history
This panel thematizes the visual construction of evidence through picturing technologies visualizing the visible and invisible. Under this umbrella papers could address the epistemological status of images as historical sources. Papers could come from the history of medicine and science, military history, the history of social movements, and media history.

12.30 – 15.00h Lunch

15.00 – 16.30h Section III: Returning the Gaze
This panel addresses problem of hegemonial and subaltern gazes, dealing with practices of defining and subverting normative gazes. Papers could come from American colonial history including postcolonial struggles, or social movements such as Civil Rights Movement, the women’s movement and so forth.

16.30 – 18.00h Section IV: Defining Memory – Printing the Legend
This panel will analyze images as sites of memory and acts of historical meaning-making that not only reflect but actively construct and define memory. Images will be seen as both indicators and factors of those processes of social communication through which social groups and whole societies define their identity through memory. Papers could deal with American iconic images, monuments and architecture, television series, celebrations, exhibitions etc.

18.00 – 19.30h Dinner

19.30h Business Meeting

9.00 – 10.30h Section V: Visualizing Legitimacy
Papers in this section will address the problem of visual cultures of the political, and how America’s democracy visualized the norms and key concepts upon which its constitutional order rested. Papers could come from the field of presidential studies, constitutional history, the history of politics but also from media and journalism history (cartoons), the history of social movements, and military history

10.30 – 11.00h Coffee Break

11.00 – 12.00h
Summary: Gudrun Löhrer (Berlin)/ Volker Depkat (Regensburg)/Andre Dechert (Münster)

12.00h Lunch and Departure


Andre Dechert

WWU Münster

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