This year the Visual Culture Workshop RIW’s activities included image workshops, chapter workshops, organizing a guest lecture, and co-sponsoring several events. The VCW continued our tradition of hosting image workshops where group members are invited to share and discuss images they are working on. This exercise has been central to building community and generating interest in the field and group. The VCW also organized two chapter workshops with Cass Adair (PhD English Language and Literature) and Joshua Morrison (PhD Screen Arts and Culture). The chapter workshops give group members a space to share their work and to receive focused feedback on their works-in-progress. These workshops help group members situate themselves in the field of Visual Culture, and also allows them to have a conversation with colleagues and peers
This year the VCW also organized a guest lecture by Prof. Anna-Pegler Gordon. Prof. Pegler-Gordon is Associate Professor of Social Relations and Policy at Michigan State University. She is the author of In Sight of America: Photography and the Development of U.S. Immigration Policy among numerous article publications. Her new research project is a study of Asians at Ellis Island, was is the subject of her talk: “Asians at Ellis Island. Seen and Unseen.” Most histories of Asian migration focus on Angel Island in San Francisco and the western United States. However, Asian immigrants also entered the United States through Ellis Island and, especially in the period from 1924 until the station closed in 1954, Asian New Yorkers, stowaways, smugglers and sailors were detained and deported through Ellis Island. This lecture is part of a larger book project which asks: What changes in our understanding of Asian exclusion when we view it through Ellis Island? And what changes in our understanding of Ellis Island when we see it through the prism of Asian migration? Exploring images of Asians at Ellis Island, as well as the absence of images, this presentation considers how both the seen and unseen challenge historiographies of Asian exclusion and American immigration. As part of this guest lecture, Prof. Pegler-Gordon also met with graduate students to discuss her work and professionalization. This talk was important for building interest and community around new work in Visual Cultural studies.
We take it as a strong indicator of the interest in Visual Culture, as an interdisciplinary space for scholarly work, that we were approached by a number of other groups for cosponsorship of additional events. We helped fund guest speakers hosted by the Digital Studies Workshop (Simone Brown), the English Department (Nicholas Mirzoeff), and the American Studies Consortium (David Alworth).
This year we took note of the growing interest across our humanities departments in exploring new modes of doing and communicating scholarly work outside of traditional formats. As grad students in seminars, we are often invited to create final projects in non-traditional modalities, such as visual, digital, or hybrid forms. Nearing finals season, we held an informal workshop to talk about project ideas that don’t fit the typical seminar paper mold and brainstorm new ways of doing such work. Graduate students and some faculty participated in this conversation, which also aimed to discuss questions about the uses and expectations of final projects in our graduate seminars.