Image courtesy of Doug Dowd, faculty director of the Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University:

Visual & Material Culture

The Visual and Material Culture Initiative in American Culture Studies seeks to foster collaboration and exchange amongst scholars, critics and practitioners whose work is concerned with visual and material culture. Several foundational questions will serve as a point of departure for this exchange:

(1) How do human beings make meaning with objects, images, structures and spaces that comprise their worlds? And how do the contexts of production and use - technologies of production, status as commodities, established systems of valuation, intended users/audiences, etc. - shape these meanings? What cultural narratives, whether local or national, impinge upon their creation, reception and future meanings?

(2) How might these visual and material things be used to describe and interpret cultural relations in everyday life?

(3) What are we to make of objects, images, structures and spaces that fall outside traditional definitions and established practices of Art, and/or whose contextual meanings cannot be easily categorized? Consider an illustrated Cream of Wheat ad from the early 20th century; a stuffed bird under glass of the sort found in a Victorian parlor; or the QuikTrip convenience store in Ferguson, MO. Each of these confounds conventional categories of analysis.

The above questions require attention to the multiple spheres of culture in which objects, images, structures and spaces participate. They also suggest a need for collaboration amongst makers, critics, curators and scholars as we engage with the methodological challenges inherent in work with visual and material culture.

The above serves only as a starting point for our work together. If you are interested in participating please email the faculty conveners listed on the right. We hope you can join this important collaboration.

key contacts

Heidi Kolk

Assistant Professor, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, and Assistant Vice Provost of Academic Assessment

Doug Dowd

Professor, Communication Design

Jennifer Gallinat

Administrative Coordinator