Bess Williamson spoke will be coming to speak at the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation Seminar in New York and American Material Culture on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Her talk is entitled “Problems in Design History Research: The Body, Disability, and Modern Industrial Design.”

In her talk at the BGC, Williamson will discuss her research on bodies that are hard to find in design history: those of the disabled, ill, and elderly. Disability is a little-discussed topic in the history of design, particularly given the propensity of Modernism toward idealized, engineered forms rather than aberrance or idiosyncrasy. Looking at (and for) bodies left out of mainstream design provides an opportunity to interrogate design research, and ask: where do we look for difficult-to-find subjects in the history of design? What discourses can guide an exploration of modern and contemporary design from the perspective of the body—particularly when design does not function well? What connections can be made between these invisible subjects and other concerns left out of design discourse?

Bess Williamson is an Assistant Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she teaches courses in design history and theory. She received her PhD in American History from the University of Delaware, and holds a Masters in the History of Design and Decorative Arts from Parsons The New School for Design/Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Her current book project, Designing an Accessible America, traces the history of design responses to disability rights from 1945 to recent times. Her writing has appeared in Winterthur Portfolio and American Studies, with reviews in Design and Culture and Design Issues.