Paul Stirton (Bard Graduate Center) will lead a roundtable discussion on the topic “Design History: Where Are We Now?” with several of the BGC’s Research and Visiting Fellows: Steven Leuthold (Northern Michigan University), Richard Taws (University College London), Jilly Traganou (Parsons The New School for Design), and Anne Kraatz (Independent Scholar). The roundtable will take place on Thursday, November 13, 2014, from 12:30 to 1:30pm, at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City.

Design History, as an academic discipline, grew out of the political and intellectual turmoil of 1970s Britain. At a time when many traditional institutions seemed ossified and established subjects like art and architectural history were struggling to embrace new values, design history offered a way forward, using methods from sociology and popular culture to interpret the myriad of designed goods. Abandoning notions of aesthetics and “quality,” design historians sought to interpret “the material facts of everyday life.”

The mission of design history has evolved since then, shifting the emphasis from studies of production to consumption; from analyses of style, function and gender, to questions of mediation, semiotics and epistemology; from an emphasis on product design to an interest in all manner of manufactured and crafted goods. This diversification is seen by many as a healthy sign, reflecting the fact that design penetrates to all aspects of life. Yet some of the early scholars have voiced criticisms. To them, the discipline has stalled, failing to deliver on its promises. At the same time, the “material turn” has brought the kinds of questions for which Design History was called into existence into the heart of historical, anthropological, and art historical inquiry in the early twenty-first century.

Has design history lost its way, or are its critics stuck in the historical questions and methods of the late twentieth century? Has design history lost its identity by expanding into all manner of material inquiries? Or has its success (whether or not directly responsible for the “material turn”) at shifting debate within older, more traditional disciplines obviated the need for an independent identity? Is Design History dead? Or has it succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its early proponents?

These are the big questions our panelists will tackle.

Coffee and tea will be served; attendees are welcome to bring their own lunch.

RSVP is required.